As you may have seen in a previous post, I am currently doing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. Last week our mindfulness assignment was to find at least one positive thing each day and explore how it affected us. Of course I decided to focus each day on a positive related to work.
Day 1 – Seeing an ex-student
As I was driving to school, I noticed one of my old students sitting at the bus stop. I had taught him for a year and a half before leaving for London, and unfortunately he had been expelled from my school a week after I returned.
He was the type of student who was disengaged with school, but we had a good rapport and he really tried in my classes. So I made the decision to go up and have a chat with him.
He was really shocked to see me at first, asking when I’d got back and what I was doing now. We talked for a while about why he got expelled, and how it was a bit of a turning point for him. He is now passing all of his subjects and looking into starting a trade apprenticeship next year.
The bit the pleased me the most, the bit that made this my positive for the day, was the fact that he took his earphones out and truly listened to me. He watched my face as I talked, thought about his answers, asked me questions in return – all things he really struggled with before. He would often mumble responses, rarely looked at you while you were talking, and fond it hard to discuss anything at length without getting defensive.
He has obviously matured and grown as a person, and even though he got himself expelled, I am proud of his growth!
Day 2 – Poetry success (and I don’t even teach English!)
One of my students really struggles with reading and writing. She has been diagnosed with learning difficulties specific to reading, and of course this greatly affects her schooling. She finds it very difficult to read longer texts and to write complex sentences.
During my spare on today, a colleague who teaches this student for English came dashing into the staffroom to get me. The class are working on a poetry unit, where they have to choose a poem and write an extension/response to it, then present it in a visual way.
My colleague was very excited to show me the response that this student had written, so of course I jumped at the opportunity. She doesn’t often have great success in classes, especially when writing is the main focus, so I really wanted to make a big fuss about this.
I was definitely not prepared for what I read! The original poem was about a person being ‘poisoned’ by a friend (in the emotional sense), and was quite intense. Her response was written from the perspective of the other friend, the one who had done the ‘poisoning’. It was equally intense, and so well written that it formed images in my mind and elicited emotions with every line. It explained the situation from this other person’s perspective, and made you realise that one side of the story is never enough. I was almost in tears at the end of it because it was so beautifully written, so well linked to the original, and because the narrative was so familiar and relatable.
I don’t think the student understands how impressed I am with her work, on so many levels. She explained how she writes poetry and songs at home, and if they’re as good as this one, I really think she could make a name for herself.
And all this from someone who struggles to read and write!
Day 3 – Quiet classroom
It might seem like a small thing, but this was a pretty big positive for me today!
I have a year 9 class who are rowdy at the best of times, and downright challenging at the worst. I often have to discuss behaviour expectations with them, and use primary school techniques to get them to be quiet when I ask for their attention.
Today a couple of the key players were absent, and that changed the tone of the whole lesson. Even though some of the other students are just as challenging, having a couple of them away made it a lot easier for me to divide my attention.
They came into the lesson a little rowdy, but not as bad as usual. I had planned a simple revision lesson where they were working individually or in small groups on a few different worksheets. I had fully expected it to be a lesson where most of the students would do the work while talking loudly and mucking around like they usually do, a few working silently, and a few not working at all. This is a pretty standard format for this class.
Instead they were all working individually or in pairs, very quietly, talking about the work, and helping each other out.
I was so damn impressed!
It was the first lesson in the 6 weeks that I’ve had them where they were fully focused and happy to do the work, even those who would normally complain and muck up.
I have no idea what the change was. Yes, a couple of the students were away, but they’ve been away before and not affected the behaviour of the rest of the class. We’ve done worksheet/independent work lessons before, and they have turned out exactly as I predicted above.
I didn’t have to get cranky at anyone, we didn’t need to have any behaviour conversations, and everyone did the work that was expected of them with no dramas.
Definitely the positive of the day!
Day 4 – Someone brought in chocolate
I know right!
Such a simple, small thing today, but it was a real positive for everyone in the staffroom.
We are all trying to be healthier with our lunches, a few of us trying to lose weight or get a bit more fit. We’ve even been trying to bring healthier snacks to our morning teas.
But today there was glorious, delicious, chocolate. It was such a nice thing to come to at break time!
I realised today that we should be focusing on small positives too, not just the great big, heart warming, incredible positives. These little ones deserve as much of our attention. There is so much negativity going on across the world, the school, our personal lives, we often push these little things to the side. Let’s try to embrace them instead, even if it’s only for a moment or two!
Day 5 – Drawing is the way to go sometimes
My current year 8 class is challenging (not quite as much as the year 9s, but close). Many of the students really struggle to write, so today I decided to try something a bit different.
We are learning about cells – their structure, function, the organelles, etc. We have spent some time writing down a lot of definitions and explanations, but for some reason they keep getting caught up on whether cells are inside organelles, or organelles are inside cells. I have explained it probably 20 times, and we’ve written about it and labelled diagrams, but it is still confusing them.
Today we dedicated a whole lesson to relaxation and fun – we made big posters of cells.
I know a lot of people do this in their lessons or as homework, I’ve done it myself before, so I was looking forward to it.
I was actually quite surprised by their work! A few of the students who struggle the most with writing and/or behaviour were fully engaged. Their posters weren’t the most creative, the neatest, or the most accurate, but they were engaged for the full 70 minutes and were loving it. Some of the more able students produced really fantastic posters for their ability too. Of course a couple of the students decided that it was all a waste of time, but I mostly left them to their own devices, giving them the opportunity to engage at their own pace. Everyone produced a (mostly) complete poster, and they were excited to stick them up on the walls.
The reason why I count this as my positive of the day is because it was a lesson where those who usually aren’t very engaged were able to produce great work. We were all able to relax a bit, have some informal conversations, laugh at our inability to draw, and use our knowledge from previous lesson to create works of art to decorate the room with!
My challenge to you for this coming week is to jot down one positive each day. It can be as big or as small as you like, and in as much or as little detail as you like. Some days it is damn hard to find anything positive happening at work, so it might even be as simple as getting a good car park in the morning!
Please share these positives with the rest of us!
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.