California Educator

February / March 2018

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lthough my first year of teaching was more than two decades ago, I clearly remember how my second-graders returned from Thanksgiving more settled and focused . I was teaching at a pub- lic school in Oakland, and as December began, I was hopeful, energetic and increasingly confident about the learning routines I'd established in my class. Yet cliques had formed among some of the girls, and too often kids were not nice to each other. Another teacher had given me a book called Tribes: A New Way of Learning Together, a guide to building a safe and caring learning community in the classroom. I wholeheartedly adopted it. Committed to addressing student dynamics, I found an activity in Tribes to try out. One day in our morning circle, each student drew the name of a classmate and became that person's secret admirer for the day. The Classroom friction disappeared when my students focused on others' strengths and kindnesses By Elena Aguilar rules included that you couldn't tell anyone which name you had chosen, and you had to observe that classmate all day and find behaviors to appreciate. At the end of the day, we squeezed back into our tight circle on the rug, and students revealed the per- son they 'd been watching and shared appreciations: "Oscar gave Manuel his soccer ball during recess," and "Lizette walked quietly to lunch," and "Billy helped Tomas with math." A powerful activity As students offered and received appreciations, their expressions shifted and revealed pride, joy and connec- tion. I was surprised at how astutely these 7-year-old children had observed each other, identifying specific, admirable behaviors in a classmate who may or may not have been their friend. When we debriefed and wrapped up the activity, Tomas asked if we could repeat the activity the next day, and the whole class echoed their approval. "Sure," I said. "Why not?" At the end of the second day of secret admirers, I got the same request. " Why can't we do this every day?" asked Elizabeth. And so we did. Day after day, the kids pulled names from the hat. Sometimes we had "challenge days" where everyone drew two or three names. Other days were "Me too!" days — students also had to identify their own behaviors for which they wanted recognition. We created and posted lists of the student behaviors that kids were most proud of, or most liked observing — those ref lecting kindness, cooperation, personal responsibility, courage and so on. e day before winter break started, we reflected on the school year. I told them that during the break, I'd be planning for the rest of the year. I asked what they would like more of, or less of, and what suggestions they had for our class overall. Th e s e c re t a d m i re r s a c t iv ity w a s u n a n i m o u s ly endorsed. "All year!" they chanted. Oscar, who had to exert a great deal of energy to regulate his behavior, said, "I love coming to school now, and every day I think, 'I can't wait to get caught doing good things!'" "OK," I said, "we'll keep doing it." eir cheers attracted the attention of my colleague next door. As I observed their excitement, I noticed that my behavior chart on the wall hadn't been used in weeks — not since before we'd started this routine. I'd always had mixed feelings about this classroom management device — every time I asked a student to turn his or her card to orange or red, it only seemed to exacerbate his A Secret Admirers 16 Perspectives Y O U R V O I C E

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