Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Friday, January 31, 2014
After the incident at AHS on 12/13, I wrote the following letter to my students and their parents. I wanted to share it with you:
Over break, I received the above story from one of our parents. I wanted to share it all with you with an additional note as well as some news about finals. Please pass this along to your students.In WWII during the German air raids of London, a church in the city had a large stained glass window that it wanted to protect. They removed the glass pieces, left the metal skeleton intact, and church and community members each took a piece of glass to care for until the war ended. Afterward, they put the window back together. Some pieces were cracked or chipped, some intact, others did not return. The skeleton of the window did survive though. The post war window did not look exactly like it did prior to the bombing, but the character of the returned pieces with their chips and cracks was beautiful in a new way as the light reflected differently, and it was the love and care of those who took care of their little parts of the whole window that made the entire piece have new meaning.We left Arapahoe on Friday as our individual pieces of glass taken home to be cared for and watched over this break by those we trust. The Warrior structure remains ready for us to reclaim through taking back our classrooms, our spaces, and most importantly, our lives and our school. And even if some of us return a little different, maybe somewhat chipped or broken, I am certain that we will make a more beautiful window when we return in January. We are here to change the world, and I know no better people to take on this challenge than MY Warriors.Many of you are concerned about finals. Rest assured, you only need to take a final if YOU want. I’m not kidding. I will have grades updated today in all my classes.With my English Lit classes, if you need to complete the final discussion on our semester long question, we can do so on Wednesday, January 8. Let me know ahead of time if you would like to do so.English 9 (Da’ Boys) and English 9 Honors: if you want to deliver your speech for your final, you can do so on Wednesday, January 8 or Thursday, January 9. You do not need to deliver your “This I Believe” speech unless YOU want to. Some of you might find delivering your speech a great way to take control over closing the semester the way you want to rather than letting someone else determining the end. If you want to change your speech based upon the tragic events of 12/13, please do so. If you need help preparing, let me know. Also, some of you might just want to deliver your speech because you have worked so hard on it. You can also deliver your speech either of our class days. I won’t even grade it if you so choose. Let me know what you are interested in doing.I have shared the following Marianne Williamson words in my Honors’ class before, and I will share it with all of you now. I am not trying to spread any message through it, other than the message of hope:“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”Warriors, I am so proud of each and every one of you. I believe in you. I believe in the power of us together to shine a new light making Arapahoe more bright and beautiful than it was ever before.Love, Smith
posting the letter I wrote to my students and parents later on today. Somehow, I seem to not have time to get everything done, or I forget about getting things done. Everyone assures me this is normal. I also wanted to share a picture I took today from the hallway of AHS. When we returned to the building at the beginning of January, on each locker, a student had written a personal sticky note and there was a small poster from our alumni. It has been 4 weeks since the kids have returned to school and started second semester. The posters and sticky notes are still on almost every locker.
Yesterday, I received an email from my cousin Kristy with a link to the following article. In the aftermath of everything that happened on 12/13 at Arapahoe, I think we are all looking for ways to help our kids connect and prosper. This article spoke volumes to me... A few weeks ago, I went into Chase’s class for tutoring. I’d emailed Chase’s teacher one evening and said, “Chase keeps telling me that this stuff you’re sending home is math – but I’m not sure I believe him. Help, please.” She emailed right back and said, “No problem! I can tutor Chase after school anytime.” And I said, “No, not him. Me. He gets it. Help me.” And that’s how I ended up standing at a chalkboard in an empty fifth grade classroom staring at rows of shapes that Chase’s teacher kept referring to as “numbers.” I stood a little shakily at the chalkboard while Chase’s teacher sat behind me, perched on her desk, using a soothing voice to try to help me understand the “new way we teach long division.” Luckily for me, I didn’t have to unlearn much because I never really understood the “old way we taught long division.” It took me a solid hour to complete one problem, but l could tell that Chase’s teacher liked me anyway. She used to be a NASA scientist (true story) so obviously we have a whole lot in common. Afterwards, we sat for a few minutes and talked about teaching children and what a sacred trust and responsibility it is. We agreed that subjects like math and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom. We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all. And then she told me this. Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her. And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns. Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who doesn’t even know who to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who had a million friends last week and none this week? You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying. As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot – and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper. As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea – I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said. Ever since Columbine, she said. Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine. Good Lord. This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary. And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11 year old hands - is SAVING LIVES. I am convinced of it. She is saving lives. And what this former NASA scientist and mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH. All is love- even math. Amazing. Chase’s teacher retires this year – after decades of saving lives. What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day- and altering the trajectory of our world. TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one is watching- it’s our best hope. Teachers- you’ve got a million parents behind you whispering together: “We don’t care about the damn standardized tests. We only care that you teach our children to be Brave and Kind. And we thank you. We thank you for saving lives.”