Today I was looking through my journals, hunting for some inspiration. I wanted to find an ideas list I had started earlier in the year. I didn’t find it, because I got sidetracked by something else.
In my first entry of this March writing challenge, I wrote about some conversations my class had at the beginning of the year when we were trying to develop our charter. Unfortunately, while I was writing that first slice, the only artifact I was using, was the finished charter (the product). I remembered that we had had spirited conversations about what words we wanted to highlight, but I was actually a little fuzzy on the particulars (the process). Tonight, in my search for something else, I found my notes from that first class discussion, so I think I need to amend the record.
One interesting aspect of this conversation was that it took place on the second day of school. I could tell that these kids had done a lot of talking and listening in their previous classes. I started the conversation with the simple prompt: How do you want to feel in this class this year? A mini debate happened when we tried to trim our lengthy word list. One student argued for “fearless.” I thought that sounded like a worthy ideal. Another countered with “Courageous.” They were too similar to both make the list. One would have to win. This led to discussion. The fearless person said that it would be best for a person to feel that they had no fear of sharing a piece of writing or something personal at morning meeting. They said they didn’t want to have to feel courageous when they shared something. To me this made a lot of sense. I was impressed that they knew to use an example to show what they meant. Another student pushed back, though. Here’s what she said. “I think that fearless is a trait. It’s how you are. But courage is a choice you make. It’s a choice we want to be able to make.” I don’t know if I completely agreed with this statement, but it definitely made me pause. I know I was impressed with the sophistication.
The other argument centered around the words “respected” and “accepted.” Several students had raised their hands to support the word “respected.” They said that it was something everyone should be able to expect in a class or the school. But then another student raised his hand and said that he thought “accepted” was an even higher goal. “I think respect is okay, and I think it’s a good way for everyone to feel, but I think it’s even better if you can feel accepted.” He went on to explain it this way. “Accepted is better than just being respected, because to me it means that someone sees who you are, but also says you’re okay, or even cool, like ‘you’re on our team.’ That’s an even better way to feel.”
The final word the class chose, came from a word I thought was shared as a joke, at first. One boy had offered “extraordinary” as a way that he wanted to feel. He said this right after someone else had suggested, “awesome.” I imagined that in a pool of words like “safe,” “respected,” “included,” “appreciated,” and “accepted,” a word like “extraordinary” couldn’t possibly make the cut. Then a student who had been quiet for most of the discussion raised her hand. “I think extraordinary is a really important word. I think it should be on our final list because no one wants to feel like they’re just ordinary. That sounds like you’re just average. I think everyone wants to feel like they are not just plain ordinary. They’re extra-ordinary.”
For me, the spirit of this conversation has carried through the year. I won’t pretend that we’ve always succeeded in helping everyone to feel accepted, courageous and extraordinary, but I take the words as part of that worthy ideal. It’s similar to the way I recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, knowing that it’s not a statement of how things are in our country, but an affirmation of what we hope to be. Inside my head I’m always thinking, “…indivisible, with (the hope of) liberty and justice for all.”
I didn’t find my list, tonight, but I did find inspiration.