Building trust

I just received my latest title from ASCD: Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School.  I have read many articles and books about teaching boys in my career, but this book has a slightly different take: Kathleen Palmer Cleveland wants to make sure that teachers do not view all  boys in the same way: some boys are high achievers, and some struggle. They deserve to be treated as individuals.

I have barely begun reading the book, but in a section on building trust, I found this wonderful quote by e. e. cummings:

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals deep inside us that something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust… Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

I always thought of e. e. cummings as a poet, but clearly he has also commented powerfully on the human condition, and in so doing has given teachers great advice. This quote reminded me of the joy I witnessed in several second grade classrooms I worked with recently at an elementary school in my district. The students were creating multi-page expert reports, and we let them choose any topic. So, we had projects on World Federation Wrestling, volcanoes, penguins, baking cakes, cell phones, jumping rope, dancing, and, of course, Justin Bieber.

The teachers and I noticed that many boys who were often not engaged in the writing process earlier in the year loved being treated like experts. We learned so much about them because they were teaching us. And, the topics varied so widely, even among the boys: a boy wrote the wrestling project mentioned in the list above, but another boy wrote about how much he knew about his  mother. One of his pieces was a How To, and it was titled How to Help Your Mom Clean.

The project gave us an opportunity to get to know all of our students better, and we definitely built trusting relationships because our students saw that we wanted to know about what was important to them. Next year, this second grade team decided to work on expert projects in the fall so that students will build energy around writing more quickly. When I read in Cleveland’s book that building trust is essential for struggling boys, I immediately thought about how this is exactly what happened during the expert projects – we built trust.

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