Just went to the CI Midwest conference and got to spend time with old friends and make a good number of new ones. Last night in Jolly Spanish Teacher Jeanie’s gorgeous, well-appointed (two pianos!) vintage home in downtown Ripon, Grant Boulanger gave a moving talk to the organizers and presenters and then people shared their thoughts. I was so grateful, sitting in that room with all of these beautiful, heart-filled teachers on the same mission.
I had said to Bryce Hedstrom earlier, as we hovered by the veggie tray with some of the brightest teachers I can think of squeezing past us, that there would be no other house on the planet where I’d rather be at that moment. That house contained precious cargo – a good number of teacher leaders who have dedicated countless hours to developing their own craft to reach their own students so they can now devote countless more to helping other teachers develop their own practice and turn our profession into a beacon of success, inclusion, and equity.
Just a few of the beautiful people!
I was fixing my mouth to say the following when last call was announced and we had to stop. So here goes, party people.
I feel strongly that educators who are drawn to CI have a double calling. First, we are called to work with students, to be teachers. Second, the vast majority of us CI teachers were called again, after teaching traditional, to deepen our practice, to reach all kids, to transform our classrooms into a new paradigm that is unlike that seen in almost any other classroom in our schools.
Yesterday at Comprehensible Midwest, where 90 out of about 180 attendees were new to CI, a full 50% new folks, in Haiyun and Laurie’s beginner session, Haiyun said, “CI is a long journey but it’s a fascinating journey.” Fascinating indeed.
It’s a journey that fascinates the mind, sure, but I doubt a Vulcan could understand how it also enchants, melts, and transforms the heart. CI changes our classrooms, to be sure, but if we truly follow the journey all the way to its core, it can also transform our hearts. It can be a path to a different you.
We were called to this transformative journey together, as a group, with all our kaleidoscopically-different personalities and talents and gifts. We, as a group, the seasoned and the noobs, the bouncing-around-the-room and the quiet-and-dignified, those with well-manicured planbooks and the fly-by-the-seat-of-the-trousers types, we are all called to a shared adventure of personal and social transformation.
Here are seven things that might just transform for you on your journey.
One. Your personal life. Yesterday, I heard two people tell a presenter, You changed my marriage. They have more time for their loved ones. They have far less paperwork, far fewer “lost weekends” of marking and correcting. This increase in free time will allow you to be a more centered, calm person who is more present to the people in your life – inside the schoolhouse and out.
Two. Your appreciation of children’s creativity. Kids are stunningly-creative. Engaging CI runs on their ideas. You will find yourself listening to and cultivating children’s imaginations like never before. You will find your own imagination growing. You will develop unexpected skills as a storyteller. You will get in touch with the magic of childhood imagination. You will marvel at how your students’ creativity, oftentimes long-dormant by the time they reach high school, awakens, stretches, blinks in the light of day, looks around, sees that it’s safe, and runs out to play.
Three. Seeing every kid. In most classes, kids are herded through the experience with little opportunity to be “seen” by others. It’s an individualistic, dog-eat-dog world out there, with a thicket of pens, calculators, dictionaries, and the like between people. As you grow more and more proficient at making the kids your curriculum, as you train yourself to go slow and look in their eyes, in each pause between each word, and as you unearth more and more fascinating details and startling creativity from the people in class, you will have an uncommon privilege – knowing them as people. You might give them jobs, and thus be able to acknowledge their work, performed voluntarily, in service to their classmates.
Four. Getting into a success-oriented growth mindset. It’s hard to fail in a CI class. It’s hard to fail at a process you’ve already done before, effortlessly, whilst wearing diapers or toddling about your childhood home. Everyone in class has already been highly successful at acquiring at least one language. So then in a CI class, every last one of them can do it again if you provide the two necessary ingredients (interest and comprehensibility) over enough time.
Yes, EVERYONE. Even the slow ones. Even the poor ones. Even the unmotivated-by-grades ones. Even the ones with learning disabilities. Even the annoying ones. Even the shy ones, the hurting ones, the ones with the hoodies over their eyes. Even the friendless ones, the weirdos, the quirky ones, the outcasts, the don’t-wanna ones and the not-gonna-try ones. Everyone. Everyone can do it. They might not all get the same words at the same time, so it is my advice not to try to test them on it, but they are all, simply by breathing the air in our classrooms, going to construct their own unique mental representation of the language.
After a while, when you have them do free writes, and IEP Hoodie Kid can write a paragraph or even a story in a brand-new language, you’ll start to trust that underneath the soil, in the dark, with nothing but interesting, understandable messages plus time, language is growing. Then, like lifting a potato out of black sandy loam, out comes language. And then more. And then more. You learn to trust in the human capacity to learn and grow.
Five. Your adult ego relaxes. You start to loosen up. You start to discover that going off-script is usually more engaging, and you start to crave engagement. Maybe you’ve finally experienced the magic of being in flow with your students. Most likely this is not something you felt often without CI. You start to crave it. And to satisfy that craving, you start to do whatever it takes to get that feeling of flow, of engagement. You start to find that being silly, being expansive and theatrical in your movements and speech, that being self-depreciating and believing, truly believing, that your students are the World’s Most Coolest People, that loosening up helps you achieve that very pleasant state of flow. So, over the years, you loosen up. You get more playful. You get less self-conscious. You can’t sing, but yet here you are, singing. You can’t draw, but you make squiggles on the board that mean something anyway. You are guarded, but you’re finding that your gestures take up more and more space with their theatricality.
Six. You grow into a stronger advocate. You get more fight in you. As you stand up for CI, you experience conflict differently. Maybe for the first time, you can’t hold your tongue when you need to defend something you know to be true. It’s not really “standing up for your beliefs” because you have evidence. It’s more like standing up for the facts. And because you have seen the results, you find the inner strength to not give up and not give in.* You might find yourself talking to your admins and colleagues with more strength, passion, and conviction than you even knew you had.
Seven. You have more soulmates. Like I said, we are called together. When I was fifteen, I discovered the Unitarian Universalist tradition. By sixteen, I had a car and a license to drive, and I was gratefully transporting myself to the tiny UU church in Macon, GA. It was a tiny congregation of 125 people. The feeling was one of extreme solidarity, a tight-knit community of liberal religious folk in a sea of fundamentalist conservative Christianity. CI feels like that to me. And when we get together, for me anyways, there’s always a spiritual component, always a feeling of mission-driven work to liberate people and elevate each other.
So there’s my next-morning “ésprit d’escalier” toast. Cheers to us, the rebeldes, the merry pranksters, the misfits and dreamers and Fools. The visionaries, the frontrunners. The changemakers. The movers and shakers. Here’s to the future. Here’s to you and me!
*as Eminem put it