…that’s how much I am struggling with this post.
My classes are about problem solving, metacognition, and relationships – and we use math to help us become better in those areas.
I believe in the power of writing in the math class. I believe writing helps students gain a better understanding of the mathematics, their thought processes, their metacognition, and – even more importantly – building relationships.
I use writing all the time: journals, unit summaries (in AP Stats), special writing prompts, correction reflections, self-evaluations, etc. All of these – to be done well – require students to be willing to trust me, to be brave enough to reveal their thoughts to me and to themselves.
Between the inquiry-based nature of my classes, the group work, and the reflective writing, my classes are entirely about relationships and trust.
I’ve been asked how I get kids to buy in. Honestly… I’m not sure. It’s certainly not my “warm and fuzzy” personality or my gentle demeanor. The best answer I can give: I am honest with them, I model what I expect, I treat them with respect and dignity, I spend a ton of time giving them fast, honest feedback, I think they see how much I sincerely believe in the benefits of writing and metacognition. And they learn to trust me.
So, it was upon this foundation that school, as we knew it, ended on March 12, 2020.
As with everyone, the pandemic hit home. And hit hard. And, as hard as it was hitting my family, I knew it was hitting my students.
I teach at an all-male, Jesuit high school, that has been in the city of Cleveland for 134 years, with students from 9 counties, 100+ feeder schools, a range of races, ethnicities, identities, and socio-economic levels. I had students who had family members who were first-responders, medical personnel, executives, essential workers in grocery stores, many had parents who lost their jobs and some of my students had to go to work, some had loved ones who got sick, some had loved ones who died.
Our school ensured every kid had internet and a device – which was huge. I used Zoom and was available to my students online 3+ times/week. At the end of the year, they said the face-to-face interaction was critical.
But, I also wanted them to write. Jesuit education has a philosophy “cura personalis” – care for the entire person – and that was desperately needed.
So, each week I had my students do an online journal. This was a Google Doc that they added to each week and shared with me.
I knew I had to be sensitive to traumas my students were experiencing, but I couldn’t ignore what they were going through. The relationships and trust we had built allowed them to write about what they were experiencing in a safe and meaningful way.
The journal entries were due Monday mornings. It was beyond challenging, but I responded to everyone of my 120 students by Tuesday. And, for some kids, that became a life-line. Just knowing that they could share how they felt, they would be heard, and someone would respond without judgement meant the world to them in a scary time.
And, it was still about problem-solving, metacognition, relationships … and that was the point.
Tomorrow I’ll write about how I’m going to do things this year. Thanks for letting me share this.