Curious Classroom Book Study: Lean Into a Crisis

Friday, 11 August 2017

Chapter 9

Inside This Chapter

While not the lightest chapter in this book, learning how to address crises using inquiry strategies, is certainly an important topic to consider and one that is rarely addressed.  In most cases, we are on our own as to how to handle these situations and as Daniels mentions, "We live on a slippery slope between choosing how to act and becoming desensitized."

Not only does this chapter get us thinking about those difficult times and how we might best handle them, it offers well-researched tips for coping with these situations and might become a great resource for teachers during a time of need.  

Instructional coach, Sara Ahmed says, "The best preparation to deal with these emerging topics is to have an inquiry classroom in the first place."  She gives descriptions of physical space, collaborative/mobile tools, and student voice as key elements in this type of classroom. 

What I've Tried

Many years ago, while I was teaching first grade, the topic of a little girl who had been abducted in our area came up in conversation during a read aloud.  At the time, I was reading about being a more responsive teacher (see And With a Light Touch under the Bookshelf tab) and because of this, I took the time to talk with the children about this rather than adhering to our schedule.  The children were completely engaged in this conversation and I felt their need to talk about this.  The next day, I found a note on my easel that said, "Can we talk about that girl again today?"

More recently, we lost one of our teachers unexpectedly during a school break.  We returned to work with heavy hearts.  Our school received an outpouring of support, but what most surprised me, was the care and comfort I received from the children. Most did not know this teacher, but had heard about the situation from their families. When they came to school that first morning, they were curious about how I was feeling and some told me they were sorry.  I was so touched (and surprised) by their compassion, and while I didn't really want to talk about it, it did help me get through the day.

The following year, on a winter walk, a few children noticed a little tree that was not looking so good.  They wondered whether it was dead or alive.  It was a tree that had been planted the previous spring in honor of the teacher's passing.  The children did not know about this, but for whatever reason, began to show care and concern for this tree. One little girl insisted that she knew a tree doctor that could fix it!  

When spring arrived, we visited the tree again to check on it and see how it was doing.  It continued to show no signs of life.  I gathered the children around it and told them the story behind the tree planting.  They began to understand that when something dies you can't bring it back to life, but you can always carry it in your heart.  We said goodbye to the tree and then a few weeks later, it was removed and a new tree was planted. 

These situations may not be pleasant and oftentimes, our first thought is to shelter children from them.  Yet, these few experiences have taught me that, while it indeed is a "slippery slope," ignoring them might be missed opportunities for heartfelt learning.

Daniel says that while it is a "tough choice" to know when to investigate and when to simply leave alone, "this is where the heart and the art of the teacher comes in."

What I'd Like to Try 

While I've shared a few stories of trying times, I did not really use any of them to launch an inquiry, even though there was great interest.  For example, the first scenario could have led to my bringing in a school counselor to talk about stranger/danger.  The second scenario presented opportunities for children to teach each other how to care for someone when they are sad or hurting.  Lastly,  
the children's interest in the memorial tree would have been a prime opportunity to launch an inquiry into living and nonliving things. 

So whether it be a school crisis or just a community happening, I'd love to get better at looking for the curriculum opportunities hidden within them.

My favorite quote in this chapter, possibly in the whole book, comes from Sara Ahmed.  She says, "There is always a piece of curriculum that is unwritten.  It cannot be planned out ahead or backwards-mapped later.  It has no end-of-unit test.  This curriculum is handed to us by the world."

Your Turn

How have you leaned into a crisis within your school community?  What learning opportunities did you find there?

Thanks for stopping by!

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