First: this blog post brought to you by #nerdlution.
#nerdlution was started by Colby Sharp, a third grade teacher and a person who manages to inspire in 140 twitter characters- not easy, Franki Sibberson, possibly the biggest heart and biggest cheerleader of teachers out there, and a few others and is essentially a way to set a goal and tweet back to the community about your progress. I have been thinking about this post, and it wasn’t until nerdlution that I actually committed fingers to keyboard. Community makes all the difference.
I was recently shopping for an event dress. In doing so, I wandered into stores that I rarely go into (read:not Target) and started picking up dresses. A sales associate came to take my 2 possibilities into a fitting room, but when I got in there I found she had added a few more. She said, “I saw what you picked, and thought you might want to try these!”
Where I had chosen in a color scheme ranging between black and black, with lengths from an inch above my knee to knee, she had thrown in a few prom dresses from the late 90s.
There were ruffles.
There were pieces cut out of the bodice.
Help us all, there were patterns.
As I looked at the dresses, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “what in the word about THIS (me in leggings, a huge sweater, and something between a ponytail and a bird’s nest in my hair) made her think I should wear THAT?”
She did not know her customer.
Knowing Your Customer Makes All The Difference
There are an infinite number of roles a teacher plays: learner, therapist, nurse, community advocate… But the one I have come to ponder lately is that of salesman. A truly effective salesman can size up a customer and almost magically produce the pitch that sells. When children express disinterest or reluctance with something like reading, writing, or math, the earlier version of me would resort to pleas, compromises, and speeches about the value of work. The newer me thinks, I need to rethink my sales pitch.
The thing I am realizing (that many of you realized long ago) is that work doesn’t have to FEEL painful to be effective. Work that feels like play is like Zumba for the mind. Time passes, you laugh, you sweat, you get tired, but you say: that was fun. And miraculously, you do it again.
The question I ask myself now is: how do I make this matter to the one who always wears a princess crown, to the one shooting spiderwebs at me during read alouds, to the one whose favorite movie is Rocky?
Playful is Powerful
The answer to that question seems to aways be the same: lighten up and play! My kids love Spiderman and so he “texts” us all the time. Once to let us know that he appreciates all the help capturing villains, but not to shoot so many webs when on the rug because it is important to keep a secret identity secret. Where once I would have made a rule, now I try to enter the imaginative play and use the rules of that world.
Web usage is down to almost nil.
Spiderman send us messages about reading, writing, walking in line. I turn into Doc Oc (a nemesis of Spideman) who can only be defeated by the power of reading snap words (sight words). In short, I get goofy, and kids get working.
It is far too easy to read the kids out of the standards, to think a classroom without complaints is not rigorous, to think play has no place because there is no standard for it. It is our job to talk back to these grievous misconceptions.
We have choice time with an emphasis on prolonged pretend play every day, but my goal is to let it out of that box. An hour a day is not enough. Play is work and work is play. If I am the lead learner, I need to break out my own web hands, if that I what my customer is asking for.
How do you keep the day playful?