by Abdel Shakur
Evanston Township High School, Evanston, Illinois
This year I’ve become more reflective about the invitations students offer me in class. Invitations to curiosity, invitations to judgment, invitations to listen close listening, invitations to joy, invitations to anger, invitations to connection, invitations to familiar authoritarianism. This year I’m pickier about which I accept during the 42 minutes we share our space.
In 2nd period, I’ve got a 9th grade scholar, call him Steve, who has been resistant to writing all year. This young brother claims to hate it, rolls his eyes when we do it, and sighs deeply when I talk to him about it. He gets his work done, mostly, but he’s not shy about letting me know that it’s labor.
Last week, Steve refused to write when we sat down for circle at the beginning of class. He looked like he was out on Dodge avenue, waiting for the 93 bus to whisk him back home. When I mentioned that he was going to need his Chromebook to finish the weekly reflection our class was working on, he regarded me with eyebrows raised–like a homeless gent begging for change. A sigh roosted in his chest and he nodded heavily. In the past, I have been shackled to two responses: gird my loins for immediate battle or return his nod with disappointment and move on without him. Both responses have the potential to harm a child emotionally.
But I didn’t handle it that way. I ignored Steve’s behavior and encouraged those who were writing to keep at it. Before the activity was over, I went over to where he sat and kneeled in close. He tensed and stared off into the distance. Then I leaned in and quietly reminded him about his class job: we were going to especially need him to signal the class when there was five minutes left in the period. Almost like magic, his body language softened. He smiled and said he wouldn’t forget. And just like that, he was back.
I declined his invitation to anger and instead invited him to take on a leadership role with a class job that spoke to his need for agency. Before the end of class, he struck the little singing bowl at the front of the room, and a few days later when he submitted his poetry portfolio, I was awed by his brilliant use of language in a poem called “Houdini”. I had never seen him write with such precision.
The ethos of “choose to participate or pass,” allowed me space to not overreact. His class job allowed him to take on an important leadership role in the class and created an occasion for us to talk about his contribution to our community, beyond the work I prioritized. Maybe he was having a bad morning, maybe I set him off unintentionally, but my shift in perspective helped us avoid harming each others dignity that morning, and that made all the difference.
“My classroom is a complete 180 from last year.”
By Tamara Boynton Howard, MPH
West Seattle High School
CTE-Family & Consumer Science
My classroom is a complete 180 from last year. At the beginning of the year multiple students said they didn’t want to present because they thought they would be bullied. Today, one of those students came up to me and said, “Thanks for making us get to know each other. I never would have thought I would talk to these people.” Plus, I haven’t yelled even once. 😊
“I had never thought it would be possible for my 2nd and 3rd graders to run our class on their own.”
By Yumiko Taniguchi
Japanese Immersion Teacher
McDonald International School, Seattle, WA
I took the Democratic Classroom Leadership training this summer and I was told to sign up have a “Teacher’s Non-Verbal communication day” before Halloween. I was pretty skeptical about this “ Teacher’s non-verbal communication day” and I had a great fear of having a chaotic classroom.
My assistant teacher and I gave up our speech for the entire school day a few days before Halloween. The students had been in my language immersion classroom for 7 weeks. It took a great amount of courage to dive in something I was not sure of, especially I fear of letting go of teacher’s authority. The day turned out to be the most amazing experience of my teaching career! The students stepped out to do their class jobs, communicated effectively one another, paid great attention to my non-verbal cues, engaged in lessons and routines actively, and there was almost no behavior challenges on that day. And I must say there was a great sense of pride, peace, and trust within our class community. I was overwhelmed with deep sense of gratitude and I shed tears when I read their reflection sheet about that day. I had 100% positive feedback from the students and they told me they wanted to do this again!
From that day on, I learned to trust each of my students, to share power, to minimize my unnecessary teacher talk and lecture, and to be fully present. My teaching experience would never been the same without learning about the democratic classroom. I thank the facilitator, Chris and the learning community form bottom of my heart.