“You are a wonder.”

Not writing for 3+ months has been trying to my soul. A lot of professional writing went into my first trimester report card narratives and the creation of my digital portfolio in the late fall. I think I felt as if I had no words left inside me. Then the holidays. Then a month of illness and a winter slump. With spring awakening outside, I find myself compelled to write this evening, so I am taking advantage of the inspiration while it strikes.IMG_8283

What triggered it? The crocuses in my garden. The amazingness of my fourth graders. Finishing our read aloud novel this afternoon. The title of this blog post is the last line of our book, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and the words have been tumbling in my head all afternoon. What follows is effectively a love letter to my students.

I absolutely delight in the crazy chaos that is fourth grade. At the moment, I think I’m noticing a “Storm” phase, a term that comes from adventure experience. I was trained in the past year to facilitate groups on our campus Challenge Course, which I wrote about last August. While I don’t actually take fourth graders on the course, I DO use my facilitator training every single day in the classroom. And right now, the kids are a bit squirrelly and their social relationships are fraught with challenges. It’s the very beginning of the emotional disequilibrium that many people associate with middle school and the tween/early teen years.

Yesterday, I decided to try something different with the kids. The day before had come with multiple reports of unkindness or lack of inclusion, and I thought about our next steps. I offered my idea to my teaching partners with the caveat that it might fall flat and be an utter failure. “Okay. Fail forward.” Bless them! That is the kind of support for innovation that I love about my school in general and specifically our fourth grade team. I corralled some early arriving fourth graders, and we set up for a sounding.

A sounding? I learned about this in my facilitator training and have experienced powerful listening and sense of community through it. We made a circle of chairs and created a safe space to speak. I won’t go into the details of the process or the directions, but it was amazingly beautiful. The kids just blew me away with the way that they listened to classmates and created a safe container for each other to speak or stay silent as they chose. I couldn’t stop talking about them yesterday and singing their praises. Our Challenge Course Manager (and one of my CC mentors) was astounded to hear that fourth graders had held a sounding. (If you’re curious to learn more about soundings, see the PDFs below by Thomas Leahy, who originated the model and is another of my CC mentors.)

Is it THE answer to our social challenges? Probably not. Part of the answer is also work, by the students themselves and with teacher support, to create lasting change. This sounding was an important step for students to feel heard by their peers, no matter their point of view, and to strengthen our class community.

Then today happened. We finished Wonder. I laughed internally at one point because someone noticed a squirrel outside the window and had to bring it to the attention of the class. Yes- “Squirrel!” They were like little puppy dogs, momentarily distracted by the outside world. We all came back to the magic of the story and soon reached the end of the book. One student said that she was sad because it was one of those books that she just didn’t want to end. Yes. I agree completely. Another student coined the word “hassy” to describe how he felt – a combination of Happy and Sad.

I love the way that read aloud helps to build our classroom community while we share the magic of a great story. There are good cognitive reasons to read aloud, and it is a key component of our reading curriculum. But the magic of the group… That’s what hooks me. And soothes me. And knits us together. There is one point in Wonder that is incredibly sad. (If you’ve read it, you can probably guess exactly which part I’m talking about, but if you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it. I’ll just strongly suggest that you read the book soon.) I was tearing up and knew that I would soon be bawling while reading out loud. Not an easy feat. I asked a student to get tissues for the small table in our reading corner for anyone who needed one. Instead, she walked around to each student, offering the box. Sweet, thoughtful kindness. And we needed tissues. Some students were even holding each other and hugging through the sadness. Magical indeed.

So, to my fourth graders, you are a wonder. You are the reason I love my job. You are the reason why I continue to stick with the hard job of teaching. You are a wonder.

Sounding (c) Thomas M Leahy

Sounding Model (c) Thomas Leahy