A Song in the Spotlight

It’s the final stretch. I can see summer’s promise of mornings lazing in my PJs, afternoons lost to the hammock and a book, and evenings’ dark freckled by fireflies. But between me and all the splendid serenity of summer are progress reports.  And Graduation rehearsals.  And Fun and Field Day.  And Morning of Memories.  And the kickball game.  And final reflections for MyLearning.  And, and, and!

This is a time of year when I often feel rushed or to feel the desire to speed through final things that seem to be standing in the way of my well-deserved break. It’s easy to think, “Ugh! The kickball game is coming up. It’s going to be so hot out there. I don’t know why we bother.” Or, “I’ll just throw this in their MyLearning as a final piece. The parents don’t even look at these anyway.” I’ve been at this job for a while. I’ve seen it all. I know what to expect in these last weeks and from these kids.

But, last Thursday morning, I was reminded of something very important during the student performance of “Carmen.”

Heather F. as Micaela. Photo by Paul Ward

Our Micaela began singing her aria, but the audience couldn’t hear it. Those of us who had been in the rehearsals with her for the last four weeks knew she was singing it in French, and we knew the lovely sound of her voice because we had heard it many times. But, for this almost 12-year-old chanteuse, this was her one shot to show her fellow Trinity students how hard she had been working on mastering this song. It was through the admirable actions of our talented music teachers that I was reminded of the importance of every moment for our students. While I may be returning to 6th Grade again in August, these students will never have another chance at being Trinity 6th Graders again. Dr. Chandler quickly brought her piano playing down so that the young lady might be heard. But after a few moments, Mrs. Vrieland stated, “No, she’s going to start over.”

These decisions allowed the other adults who were working as stagehands and crew to remedy the issue with the young singer’s microphone, and she was given the chance to sing her song in front of her fellow Trinitians so that it could be heard. Doesn’t every young learner deserve the chance to sing their own songs so that they can be heard, regardless of how many times we, the adults, might have heard it in practice or a similar tune before? Where are the places that we, as teachers, can bring down the competing noise or restart the song once everything is in order?

In these last weeks, I hope every one of our students is given their rightful moment in the spotlight because each moment only comes around once, and they will never again be 6th Grade stars of an opera, or 4th Grade egg safety capsule designers, or 1st Grade authors of a book on Georgia animals, or Pre-K explorers seeking a wayward pastry.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

Keep in Rhythm

One of the best parts of being a member of the 6th Grade teaching team is a guaranteed spot on the two Outdoor Education trips a year. When I interviewed for the position of 6th Grade science teacher, I tried not to let my glee show too much as I was asked, “How do you feel about tent camping?” As a young person, I loved going to camp. As a young adult, I worked every week I could at camp. Every opportunity to try something new– from knots to fire building, from constellation identification and legends to exploring tide pool communities, and from popsicle-stick crafts to small boat sailing– was another opportunity to learn by engaging in play. I felt like I had a lot of background and skills that could enhance Trinity’s Outdoor Ed program. What I didn’t realize was that even with my vast camp experience, it would be the 6th Graders who would teach me something new on our trips together.

“Keep in rhythm,

Jolly, jolly rhythm.

Ready- o?

Let’s go!

Starting with?

Ze- ro!” begins one of my favorite hand-song games from my days at Girl Scout Camp Mahachee. Two weeks ago, as the Oaks and I bumped along in our “hayride” back from feeding the chickens at Camp Twin Lakes, I taught the group sitting around me this simple game. Rhythm is kept by players hitting their thighs twice, then clapping twice. Each player is assigned a number from zero on up. “Zero” begins the game by saying “zero, zero” as they hit their thighs twice, and then as “zero” claps twice, he or she says another number twice. The player with the number called by “zero” then says that number twice while hitting their thighs and then calls a different number while clapping twice. Play continues like this until someone falls out of rhythm, doesn’t respond to their number, or calls a number that is already out. It’s an easy game to learn, and the Oaks took to it quickly, with several of them choosing to continue to play it over putt-putt, archery, or tennis after we met back up with the rest of the Leadership class.

Before I knew it, the circle of players had gotten quite large; I think at one point there were players numbered 14 and 15! I was tickled to watch some of the original Oak players beginning to instruct those new to the circle… “Here, just watch for a bit, and you’ll get it…”, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you a Mulligan the first time you’d be ‘out’ so that you can learn before it counts…”, and “Okay, now let’s review; which numbers are left?” There was lots of laughter as 6th Graders and adults “kept in rhythm” that afternoon.

After a time, I left my place in the circle. This old brain had a hard time remembering if I was number seven or two, and the tops of my thighs were getting quite red. As I sat on the grass and watched the happy group continuing to play I thought how prepared these 6th Graders were for the next stage in their lives and education– a stage that would find them as members of a new community, a new circle.

Our Trinity students see the value in watching for a bit and giving and getting encouragement during the learning process. They understand that everyone needs to take “Mulligans” when they are in the learning stage because that will encourage risk-taking and experimentation without punitive consequences. Trinitians know that it’s a good idea to assess where they are and what they know as they go along. They do know how to keep in with the figurative rhythm of the group and keep it “jolly.” And even though in August they will be “starting with zero” at their new schools, they are ready and eager to see where this game takes them.

These are good lessons for all of us– it doesn’t matter if we’re 12 and heading off to a new school, or 43 and returning to the science lab again next year.  Everyone needs to find some “jolly, jolly rhythm,” but if you’re struggling to find yours, I can highly recommend 33 excellent “teachers.”

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

Contracting a Creed

Kind of like that tickle in the back of your throat that signals that you might be coming down with something, I’m not sure when the idea for having a classroom creed infected my brain. It likely started sometime last school year when the faculty was working on our SAIS self-study. With all of the work we were doing to collaboratively describe what it is we do here at Trinity School, I started thinking about what it is I do in my classroom. Now, by looking at the tagline at the bottom of this piece, or by asking someone around the building, you might decide, “She’s a science teacher. I bet she does labs.” And, yes, I “do” labs. I also “do” notes, and questioning, and lecturing, and reflecting, and problem-solving. But, that really doesn’t cover all that I want to do and all that I promise myself I will do for my students.

Much like the annoying cough that you grapple with once you’ve succumbed to the cold you were fighting, I don’t remember the first time I watched Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk on how great leaders inspire action (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action and totally worth the investment of 18 minutes). I’m sure I saw it before our self-study work, we probably also watched it as a faculty during the work, and then since then, it seems I can’t escape running into his talk. Sometimes a professor at Kennesaw State would mention it, sometimes it’s referenced on Twitter, but everywhere I turned, I was being presented with his golden circle. And that forced me to think about how knowing my why influences the how and the what of  what I “do” in my classroom.

So, in the same way we might start dosing ourselves with extra servings of orange juice, I started tinkering with what would become my classroom creed. Of course, I wanted to state clearly that knowledge was important in my classroom, but I also wanted to include that just having knowledge was not as important as being able to work with knowledge and work towards knowledge. I also wanted to include within my creed something that would address how I would model, and expect students to mirror, how we would all behave around learning and the knowledge we were gaining. It was important to include something about what success looks like. And, I wanted to include a directive for me, and some reassurance for those who might struggle, about how knowledge will be gained. Scrawled within a composition notebook that holds notes from a quantitative research class I took summer of 2015 and drafts of a few “welcome to our class” letters, there is a page that lists: knowledge- shared, built, dive deeper; passionate learners; success- more than one kind; and buttressing learning toward success.

Occasionally, the composition notebook would fall open, and I would look at my list and make some tweaks, but nothing ever happened with it. Like admitting I actually have a cold, I knew I was avoiding completing my thoughts on a classroom creed because I wasn’t sure I was going to like putting it in print. What if I had it posted and someone questioned whether I was doing these lofty things?

And then, just recently, I came across a quote from feminist, civil-rights activist, and poet Audre Lorde that spurred me to complete my creed. Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I had a vision of why, and how, and what I wanted my classroom to be; I trusted in my strength to be the kind of classroom leader my students deserved; and I wanted to be powerful rather than afraid, so I went to work and set something down on paper.

If you find yourself downstairs near the science lab, stop in, and check me on it. Honestly, I’m hoping that you will be infected by the “creed bug,” as well. We can start our own creed movement!  Because in taking a stance on what we do, we begin “treatment,” and we move ourselves closer to all we hope to be.  And in 1005 we strive to… Share, recycle, construct and deconstruct knowledge. Have passion about knowledge and learning be unmistakable. Celebrate multiple forms of excellence. And build bridges to move learners closer to knowledge.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.