Cracking the Hard Nuts

by Laura Rock

When I was a little girl, one of the things we would do on visits to the grandparent’s farm was crack nuwalnut-1735983_1920ts.  My grandparents had pecan, walnut, and chestnut trees and many an afternoon or evening was spent on this task.  Some of the nuts cracked open easily, others, once cracked open, would surprise you with a moldy interior, and still others, would be a challenge to crack.  We noticed however, that some of the most tasty or beautiful looking nuts were the ones that were the hardest to crack.

Many of the students who arrive to the Learning Center, either in 9th grade or by a move, arrive with seemingly little to no motivation to make positive changes.  They have been “doing” school for at least 9 years and so far, all it has led to is feeling like a failure, or that they don’t belong in the education setting.  Think about it, how would you feel about a place if every time you walked in the doors you felt inferior, or like you didn’t belong for nine years running?  How would you feel if the one large expectation of your childhood, educate yourself enough to become successful in some career, had you labeled as disabled to accomplish? What would it be like if you looked in the eyes of your teacher and wondered if they felt you was “good enough” to be occupying a chair in their room?  It is no wonder that many of my students have built a huge shell around themselves, impenetrable to adults and seemingly impossible to crack.  However, I can’t let them not be cracked. I can’t allow them to stay locked up in their shells.  My challenge is to find what tool to use to crack their shell, and what nut picks are needed to remove them from that shell, allowing their potential, skills and knowledge to be utilized.

How does this happen?  How can I crack their shell? Sometimes, it is necessary to begin the nut cracking by just saying hello every day and giving them space to feel wanted and a part of the school.  Other times I find that by being open with them about what they are going through and making some of the learning challenges they face explicit, they start to connect. I have learned, as well, that fancy methods are just as unsuccessful at cracking them as the fancy nutcrackers imported from Germany and sat on the hearth a my grandparent’s house would be at cracking nuts.  nutcracker-1074420_1920

To the chagrin of my grandmother, one of us grandkids tried it and its poor mouth was never the same! Keeping interventions simple and consistent are the most successful at cracking the shell. I have learned that when I share my struggles with learning, both past and present, they see that I can empathize with them.  I have learned that when I listen to them, even if I disagree, their shell gets softer.  I have learned that constant encouragement, sitting beside them, knowing what they need to do and supporting them through the process, helps them become vulnerable enough to allow themselves to be cracked open.  Finally, I have learned to respect the process and to err on the side of protecting what is on the inside to be of most importance.

I used to think that once they were cracked open my work was done.  Then I learned that just like cracking nuts, getting them open is only half the job.  If you want a nice looking nut, one that Grandma will put in her pie, you need good nut picks to pull them out nicely.  Otherwise, they will be all broken and can only be put in the broken pile.  While nuts in the broken pile are great for nut lovers to eat, they don’t make great students. So now, I know that cracked open students need delicate precision for me to pull them out whole to be ready to join the world of learning.  This often takes even longer than cracking them open.  They will often sit content in their shell, willing to learn, willing to try new things, but not willing to leave the protections they have built up.   It is at this critical stage that I need the assistance and collaboration of teachers.  It is the classroom teachers that allow students to feel safe for me to “pick them out” of their shell.  It is the interactions they receive outside of the support room that gives them the courage to shed their shell and to be ready to feel a part.  There is no better achievement as a teacher and school when a student who has given up on their role as a student turns into an ambitious and successful one, arrives to school with a smile on their face and truly believes they can achieve their dreams.  Will you join me in becoming a professional nutcracker?

 

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Literacy Specialist Assistants: A New Experience at Lincoln High School

By Flor Parma and Majo Correa

Many colleagues or students are wondering who the people sitting at the back of the classroom during Biology or Spanish are. They enter the rooms without asking, sit comfortably, take notes, and leave without being noticed. They rarely talk, but they sometimes ask a question as if they were another student. Teachers don’t seem to be bothered; instead, they greet them with a smile.

Well, let us tell you, we are one of these people. We are not teachers, we don’t specialize in any subject, we don’t have planning time or an advisory group, and we don’t have an office of our own. However, we do know about the students who attend those classes. We know about their strengths and challenges. We know how it feels to having to learn about DNA or cellular reproduction, when we really love Social Studies. We don’t know everything, but we do whatever it takes to learn it and become experts in the subject. We are LITERACY SPECIALIST ASSISTANTS!

This is a new role in the school, so we face the challenge of letting the rest of the Lincoln community know how important our job is. So here are some things everybody should know about us:

  • As we mentioned before, we attend classes in order to learn new content, as most of the material does not have a connection with the subject we studied or have taught previously. By going through the struggles of learning that new content, we can now understand what a student that is not particularly attracted to that subject feels, by having to learn it anyway. So we try to find ways and strategies for students to reach the content in a more enjoyable way.
  • We are Native Spanish Speakers and English Learners, but we speak both languages and sometimes a third one. By being bilingual we can provide students with reassuring concepts in their L1 and L2 and we can learn with and through them, not only new vocabulary, but meaningful ways of using it. We can share not only words, but experiences.
  • But our role not only involves students. We share a lot of time with subject teachers, as we need to adapt to the almost 96 classes taught in high school and to the different pedagogies used by every teacher.  All in all, we collaborate on a daily basis by co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing, and co-reflecting with more than 30 teachers.
  • What do we do with all the information we collect? Well, we provide ideas or recommendations, as well as we listen to ideas or recommendations from teachers that need to differentiate, so every student is capable of reaching and understanding the lesson. We put all our thoughts together in order to come up with a better idea, resulting in students achieving the learning objectives.
  • We do not hesitate in saying “we don’t know, let’s look it up”. Showing doubt is also necessary, so students can see that even teachers can sometimes feel uncertain about some things. Looking for clarification together can help them learn how to do it next time and to not feel bad about it.

As you can see, there are many things we have to be aware of, but we feel  the most important part of our job as literacy specialist assistants is to empathize with students when they  approach us with feedback about classes, teachers, and personal struggles. We get to know the students as complete people: siblings, friends, peers, club leaders, musicians, athletes, and teenagers. By knowing their passions, we can help them with their struggles, because when we make connections with their personal interests, we are more able to engage them.

We are very fortunate to have this job, as we get to know a lot of different subjects and a lot of our students! This is a PD itself!

Shock News: Teachers Voluntarily Add Extra Meeting to Their Day

By Naomi Barbour

Who said collaboration can’t be fun? Who said it can’t be about getting together with your colleagues to chat in a relaxed environment? Who said it can’t involve Blueberry Crisp, Coco-Dulce de Leche Delights and Lemon and Lime Tart? Well, no one of course, but it is also possible that you didn’t know you could collaborate with your colleagues in this way.

Untitled presentation

Our first lunch about “Building Background”. From left to right: Flor Parma (LSA), Ivy Romero (ICP), Helen Paul (English), Laura Rock (Learning Coach), Majo Correa (LSA), Dr. Alvaro Peña (Biology), MaJo Schamun (Spanish), Alli Poirot (Social Studies), and Silvina Fernandez (Spanish-Service Learning)

Continue reading “Shock News: Teachers Voluntarily Add Extra Meeting to Their Day”