One of the most challenging aspects of going back to school is readjusting my sleep routine. I assume most people can relate to that. Summer nights are Colorado’s nectar. And binge watching adult television is a luxury that happens after my young son goes to bed, throughout the year but especially in the Summer. I love catching up on all the superheroes, dystopian drama, and mystery shows I missed last fall while drafting emails, cross checking standards in my lesson plans, or crunching data.
Going from having so little empty time during school (like 5 minutes to eat while standing- yeah, that’s a real thing), to so much empty time in June can leave my brain feeling clunky. By the time August rolls around I usually have managed to slip comfortably into a routine that certainly does not include going to bed before Midnight or waking up at 5 a.m.
So here we are. It’s August. I have just completed my first week back to school and I am tired. I haven’t done a lot except attend meetings and bond with the new staff. I’m not so tired because I can’t handle the rigor of the day, yet. It’s just hard readjusting my sleep schedule. I don’t really want to be awake before dawn or go to bed at a reasonable hour.
So, what keeps me up at night this time of year? Until utter exhaustion and routine kick in sometime in October, it might be thinking about a kid’s anxiety over seating. Ruminating over a kid who I suspect knows more but won’t show it to me, no matter how nice I am will probably keep me awake. Pondering how to group kids for a challenging activity so they don’t melt down definitely keeps me awake.
And this brings me to my inspiration for today’s blog. It’s Sunday morning and I was reading the news and came across another story of Senator Cory Booker inviting conversations on the U.S. Capitol steps and live streaming the events. What I think of Booker’s politics aside, I admire his efforts to bring respectful discourse to more Americans. I watch the enthusiasm of the audiences his impromptu meetings attract and get all weak in the knees when those audience participants become leaders of the discourse as the live stream rolls on after the career politicians go back to their offices.
Let’s be clear – I don’t talk politics in depth with most people and never my students. As a teacher, I must maintain very clear boundaries and objectivity in many situations.
I definitely teach American Civics, forms of government, and the historical context of our current political climate, but my personal politics have no place in the classroom. That can be a very difficult thing to navigate. Last year was an election year. The student conversations around politics were fascinating ( I teach middle schoolers). Most students don’t yet have the tools to practice respectful discourse and they tend to mirror their parents’ views. This August, keeping me up at night is a determined brain wanting to encourage skilled discussion and mutual respect for broad perspectives in my classroom.
This year will provide fertile ground for debate if today’s news headlines are an indication. I hope I am skilled enough to guide their conversations to be productive and respectful. I have a couple of go-to resources that I really love using.
A Socratic seminar is typically an excellent tool when implemented skillfully. It provides a structure that is predictable and layered in its complexity, requires participation from students who are not speaking, and can be used when talking about ANY topic where someone has an opinion to share.
Another great tool is respectful discourse sentence stems. I have them available from the first day on the bulletin board or students have them in their hands when we use discussion as a learning platform. When kids don’t know what respectful debate sounds like, they don’t independently generate it in their own interactions. It really is like Lord of the Flies teaching in a class where respectful discourse has failed and toxic conversations are the norm.
Hats off to Senator Booker for seeking to invite discourse on our nation’s toughest issues. Hats off to the people encouraging the healthy debate of complex perspectives and for doing it on the Capitol steps. I would encourage those who disagree with Senator Booker to join the debate instead of deriding it. Live streaming these conversations allows the millions of teachers going back to school rich primary sources to share with kids on how adherence to respectful discourse advances, not only our representative government but productive society as a whole.
It is typical that as adults we typically seek the company of people who believe the things we believe and who value our values. As we return kids to classrooms where they have the unparalleled advantage of sitting in rooms with broad perspectives and backgrounds, let us dedicate ourselves, as teachers and parents, to a little bit of lost sleep over how to encourage them to hear all sides of an issue, vigorously defend their viewpoints, and incorporate each other’s perspectives into their growing understanding of themselves.