This article first appeared on QuietRev.com
Heidi Kasevich is Quiet Revolution’s Director of Quiet Education, leading the effort to found the Quiet Schools Network. QSN works to affect change in our education system by unlocking the power of introverted learners and educators. QSN is offering a summer insitute for educators in June 2016; visit QSN to learn more.
The day of the dreaded end-of-semester party in my son’s fifth grade class was fast approaching. While the other kids seemed thrilled about celebrating their accomplishments by playing games and sharing treats, Jeremy hated the very idea of the gathering. “Why do we have to do this?” he exclaimed, weeks before the special event. “I’m not going to bring anything.” As he checked off the days leading up to the party, I noticed that the strategy that I had adopted to help my quiet child prepare for social events had backfired: the rising number of checkmarks felt more like a drum beating louder and louder than a soothing, repetitive way to get into the party groove.
My fear of raising the pressure too high led me to toss the idea of a lovely evening spent baking together before the party (as all the other kids seemed to be doing with their parents). No, we would take a more nonchalant attitude and contribute something that was easy to purchase on the walk to school. Fruit—yes, it would have to be fruit!
Off we went the day of the party, approaching his school as if nothing unusual was planned. I blithely reminded him of our need to make a purchase, let him lead me to his favorite deli, and then asked him to select the ripest bunch of red grapes that he could find. He shot me an anxious look at checkout, and we proceeded to discreetly stuff the juicy fruit into his blue backpack. He insisted that none absolutely none of his classmates should ever be able to detect that he had something to bring to the party. My vision of a successful parenting strategy, resulting in delivering a happy, sociable child to his school, continued to divert sharply from reality.
Back en route, we continued to chat about the latest baseball scores, and I distracted him with our “favorite car” game: “Do you like that red Ferrari or do you prefer the black Range Rover?” I did my best to hide the sinking feeling of dread that sharpened like a knife in the very depths of my being. It was happening again: I was experiencing his emotions just as deeply as if they were my own, one of the hazards (and joys) of the parenting journey. How could I possibly drop him off and then collect myself so that I could walk into my own classroom a mere ten minutes later and teach a successful World History class?
My next move was born in the heat of the moment, out of a combination of instinct and necessity. I said a quick goodbye at the front door and made a beeline for the emergency exit, racing as fast as I could up to his classroom before he could get there. I felt as if I were in possession of information that could make or break my son’s experience at that classroom celebration. I knew Jeremy well enough to know that there was no way that he was going to let on that he had come to school with the fruit, but also that if he did not contribute anything like the rest of his classmates, he would be upset for weeks. Those workouts at the gym paid off, and I managed to inform his teacher about the red grapes in the blue backpack and be out of the classroom before I could be spied by my son.
As I entered my own classroom a few short minutes later, I set aside my worries and proceeded with my regular morning check-ins with my students: How are you feeling? How was your commute? Do you have any tests today? Yet this time, the routine felt different. I tuned in with more empathy than usual to each individual child, scanning the room for feelings of apprehension about the lesson and actively seeking out kids who might be anxious about some event later on that day. I was more intentional about taking extra time to help all of my students participate as I eased into the flow that comes from surrendering to the teaching moment.
My quest to devise strategies for rethinking class participation was thus born in the crucible of what my family now affectionately refers to as the “grape incident.” This story, and other parenting moments with Jeremy, profoundly impacted my teaching style with my own students. Over time, I designed a myriad of techniques for providing my quiet students with a long runway so that they would feel more safe and comfortable about sharing thoughts and opinions with me and the rest of the group. With patience, I was careful not to call on those kids whose hands shot up first, employing instead a variety of methods to fully engage all of my charges: dynamic duos, reading documents aloud, sketching faces of the people we were studying, roleplaying encounters, and composing headlines for newspapers of the time period. The list kept growing.
So, what happened to Jeremy on that June day? I found out that his teacher, a marvelously sensitive and caring educator, had used my hastily gasped information to perform magic in class. My son and I still laugh about the way that Mr. B started the day with his unusually specific question: “Does anyone have any grapes?” And while Jeremy admits to feeling a bit uncomfortable, the words prompted him to race to his locker and grab the fruit; because of the support he received, he remembers that day with pride for his courage, rather than regret for his inaction.
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