After the long holiday break, we all settled back into our school routine during the first week in January. My middle schoolers did remarkable well picking up with our grammar, spelling and reading routines. We reflected on our hopes from the start of school and outlined our hopes for non-school goals. Academic hopes, forthcoming.
We dove into a new genre of writing (memoir) which they eagerly attacked with the passion that ten- and eleven-year olds adeptly apply to dramatizing their endeavors. We began wrapping up our research on the Vikings and started working on oral story-telling of Viking Sagas. We also began the arduous process of writing an essay on what we learned and documented in our primary- and secondary-source research. Things were humming along. Even-steven. Phew!
Along comes a three-day weekend, capped off by snow and cold. You know what I mean, because most of us were impacted by the Polar Vortex or at least heard about it on every news and social media outlet. As my friends in the northeast like to chuckle about, the mere prediction of a couple inches of snow shuts this part of the world down. By Tuesday morning, 300 schools in metro-Washington were closed for the day. Ditto for Wednesday, followed by two-hour delays the rest of the week.
So much for having our bearings this January.
Plans were adjusted, calendars revised and the adults knew things would shake out. Eventually. The kids? Well, their response could generally be categorized as “Ummm…what day is it?” or “I”m sooooo tired from sledding!” or “What were we doing last week?” Extended sharing time in Morning Meeting, a few extra energizers and a bit of calm humor were in order.
Behind the scenes, there were still administrative deadlines. Spring field trip planning, grading, goal setting and observations, curriculum review, yearbook pages to design. Our game faces to the kids might have said, “Keep Calm,” but in our head and on our devices, the back log of work was not yielding “calm.”
The timing of our winter “Leadership Trips” turned out to be good stuff. That special kind of good stuff that allowed for social interaction and risk-taking, camaraderie and community building. (Not to mention a distraction from the heap of teacher-work and a lot of good laughs.)
On Friday, half of our middle school left campus after lunch to go ice skate. Many of our kids have skated before, but for the handful that hadn’t, this was a huge risk for them. And moderate risk for those kids who skate once or twice a year in the mild-Mid-Atlantic. They were optimistic they could tackle this big rink. A pack of kids darted onto the empty ice and were off. Others tapped their way onto the ice and flailed arms until they found some rhythm. Unsteady ankles were shored up by adults tightening laces and peers offering safety cones to push. The Wobblers forged ahead, tense with fear and uncertainty, but each one surrounded by at least two peers who cheered them on, offered tips, and held their hands.
Two girls cautiously held the rail for one solid lap around the rink, occasionally stopping to comment on others skating or the plethora of “GO NAVY” signs around the arena. In the end, it was a 17 minute lap for them, but a crowd gathered to cheer them at their personal finish line. They smiled, released the death-grips on the wall, stretched their shoulders, laughed a little and then felt ready to try the cones. Two other newbies had adopted pairs of cones, even naming them as their trusted aids. The steady stream of helpers approached, lightly offering tips and vocally offering praise. Other groups of kids hunkered together laughing and challenging each other, skating in a line, racing across the rink and imitating the QB slides seen each weekend in the NFL.
Nearly all these kids were relaxed, laughing and trying new things. Many, many kids spoke up to cheer each other on. They complimented each other and teachers – “hey, Miss Wells…you can actually skate there!” Or others enthusiastic grabbed the hands of a teacher and skated and chatted, asking, “Did you skate when you were a kid?” Only to be amazing by this teacher’s stories of skating on the rivers and creeks in the neighborhood where she grew up.
After two hours on the rink, and we were all reminded of the fun and laughter that is still so important at this age. There was more risk-taking and friendship-building accomplished on the ice than we could have every planned in an academic lesson this week. The break from routine, exercise, and camaraderie was the ideal ending to one wacky week. Next week, we can tackle the teacher-work, essay revisions, declarations of hopes, memoir reading and writing and spelling lists. This afternoon was dedicated to being kids and being teachers who truly enjoy being with kids. Good stuff.