This year's essential questions revolve around Bravery. It's hard to tell which came first - the question or the manifestation of so much bravery. Certainly, bravery in school is a thing.
I think about my brother with dyslexia who had to show up at school every day when he couldn't read to get yelled at by his teachers. That took bravery. Or my mom who went back to school at night to become a nurse while raising seven kids. More bravery. Or my older son who started a new school in 11th grade - joined the teams, made friends and volunteered. Or my younger son who will stay up until 2:30 to finish a paper, go to school the next day and stay after for theater rehearsal. You guessed it, bravery.
These overtly brave actions are typically easy to spot. They are experiences that shape us and help define our experience, but they are not the only manifestations of bravery. Not by a long shot.
School was closed for two days this week. Philadelphia is in the grip of extreme cold and winter weather. It has taken some bravery to venture outside at all, and yet, we've shoveled, walked the neighborhood, run errands and otherwise found ways to get outside without facing death or frostbite.
Most of what I have done in the last two days is read kids' work. Without intentionally looking for bravery, I found a great deal.
- The 5th grader who misunderstood the project and did all of his initial planning and research with a not-useful lens. He argued a little with me about the problem and then redid the work to turn in a rather lovely project.
- The 6th grader who found herself in the middle of an ugly exchange at her table and was able to graciously and calmly smooth over the misunderstanding. She, too, turned in an exceptional project.
- The kid who really hates math and struggles to understand most of what we do who uses tools (Google, his trusty calculator and his positive spirit) to do what he can and stretch his thinking about math.
- The student who told me she really doesn't understand decimals but used her creativity and writing ability to make sense of the decimals she needed to use for the project.
- The girl who cried during every assessment last year who showed up for Math Lab, worked outside of class and turned in her project over break because she was proud of her work.
- The sassy 6th grader who put a plug in her project (which had lots of merit on its own) for more points of "We also learned how to ESTIMATE by our beautiful intelligent math teacher Ms.I (LOVE MATH)."
I could go on and talk about a student who got lost every day on her way to school in September and now walks out of her way to pick up a classmate who is learning to walk to school without her mom. Or the kid who struggles with executive functioning who told me that he had figured out how a block of time each day could be structured to get his work done. Or the student who used to need to visit the nurse every day before lunch who no longer needs to go. Or the kid who uses art to say brave and important things...
You get the idea. We face our fears all the time. We must, or we become crippled and stagnant. Most of the time, it is not super fun. We don't feel like icons of bravery, we just get up and do the work that needs to be done. We learn new things and we apply them to our old habits with the hope that something good will happen. Fortunately for all of us, often something good does.