Saturday, February 27, 2010

What I'm Missing

Last week, there were several moments that highlighted for me how our newly expanded school feels different from what used to be our small school family. I had glimpses, three times, of the kinds of connections I thrive off of, and which I have so rarely these days.

Wednesday was Math Night, when the school community comes together to do math activities and celebrate student math learning. The kindergarten through second grades were in the auditorium, which turned into a giant math playground. I got to hang out and talk with kindergartners and first graders, students who I never see this year. (In previous years, they were right down the hall -- this year, they are on another floor, and our paths don't cross much.) More importantly, I ran into families of past students who I haven't seen lately. We exclaimed over each other, exchanged hugs, and said how much we miss seeing each other. Parents of second through seventh graders stopped me. I know a lot of families from all these years in the school, and that's what makes it feel like we have a school-based family: knowing kids and their siblings and moms and aunties and dads, and connecting with them on a regular basis.

I had glimpses of that feeling at Math Night, and realized how much I miss it. Since our school is so much bigger now, there are many strangers in the hallways. Unlike the old days, when pretty much anyone I saw would know who I was, they don't know me, and I don't know them. Maybe the differences have less to do with location and distance as they do with simple size. Hundreds more students and families, dozens more teachers and classrooms -- it all equals a lot of strangers.

Friday morning I was sitting in my classroom before school when a kindergarten teacher popped her head in to chat. Then a fifth grade teacher came by. We talked, and laughed about how much we'd been in the building this week, and how messy our homes are because we are never home. It felt good. Again, I feel like I have many fewer chatty conversations with colleagues this year. Partly, that's because I don't know them so well -- so many of them are strangers. Partly, it's because school starts earlier in the morning, so there's less down time before school. And partly it's again because of space and size.

Friday afternoon, our whole-staff meeting was canceled, and the second grade team had time to sit together. We have daily planning meetings for about 35 minutes, which we try to dedicate to certain subjects (Tuesday is math, Wednesday is reading, etc.). But those meetings are short, often interrupted, and in the middle of the teaching day, when our minds are likely to be elsewhere. This year, our Friday afternoon times have been very structured, and we've had less time for simple brainstorming and cross-pollinating of instructional ideas. We tried to begin our meeting with some structure, but it soon became a free-flowing swirl of ideas and connections: our class said this during math today, it made me think about this part of teaching reading, we tried small groups for this activity and it really worked, I don't think our students really understand this idea yet, what should we do? At a conference I went to I learned this, maybe that will work; Oh! that reminds me of something I read about recently, you do it like this... etc. etc. It felt great. It wasn't necessarily super productive; we didn't come out of the meeting with lesson plans or next steps. But we shared and built on each others' ideas. I love doing that, the stream-of-consciousness idea-swapping, and I've missed it this year.

I know I need more moments like this, and there are perhaps some coming: a meeting about redesigning our schoolyard tomorrow with some of my favorite people; dinner with a colleague just to catch up and be together; a group meeting on a monthly basis to share teaching quandaries and ask for ideas. I'll have to cultivate these opportunities to help keep my soul fed.

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