Sunday, October 17, 2010

Give Them Strength to Grow - Chris's Aha Moment

This week's aha moment is shared by Chris Wejr, a K-6 principal in Agassiz, BC, Canada.  Chris is always quick with an understanding word, encouragement and advice even in non-school matters.  Never too busy to discuss or care, he is a wonderful person to have in your PLN.  This is his first time as a guest blogger do make sure you comment, follow him on Twitter at @mrwejr and add his blog to your must read list mrwejr.edublogs.org


“We don’t know who we can be until we know what we can do.” - Sir Ken Robinson

How can we truly see the potential of our students if we fail to provide the environment to bring out their talents?

I have always wanted to be a high school teacher and I was exactly that for 7 years. You never know where your life will lead you and, while completing my Master’s Degree, I was offered the opportunity to work with an amazing principal at an elementary school. Roxanne taught me to seek out the strengths in people and bring these talents out from within and opened my eyes to the power of strength-based, rather than deficit-based, teaching and leadership. My aha moment came in my first few months of being an elementary school teacher and a new vice principal.

When I did the tour of the school I was to be a teacher/vice principal, I met Daniel (pseudonym). Daniel had a smile that was contagious but was disengaged and struggled in school; the reason I met him that day was that he was in the hall after being asked to leave class. I never asked him why he was in the hall, I just started asking him about his life outside of school; we talked about music and friendships in the few moments we shared together on that day.

The next year, I was to teach a 5/6 class (in addition to the vice principal duties) so when we were creating the classes, I requested that Daniel be placed in my class. To be honest, in the first month, I really struggled with the transition from teaching 17 year-olds to teaching 11 year-olds. Many of the students had behaviour, social, emotional, and academic challenges so I spent many hours bouncing ideas off Roxanne and other teachers trying to find out how to reach these kids. I specifically started to talk about Daniel as he was so withdrawn in class - always refusing to take part in any learning activities and that smile that drew me to him seemed to have disappeared. She asked me what I knew about him; the truth was that I knew very little about him other than he struggled in class and liked music. She encouraged me to find out more about him; find out what he loved, what he was good at and try to bring that out in him.

During the next week, I spent a recess having a snack with Dan. I found out that he lived in a nearby community in which he spent two hours on the bus each day, lived with his Grandmother because his mother was far too young, and we shared a common interest in Johnny Cash. We spent much of the recess singing a variety of Cash songs and just laughing. Later that day, I was speaking with the First Nation Support Worker (Nelson), sharing with him about the moment that had occurred, and he let me in on another strength of Daniel: First Nation drumming and singing. He said this was something that he recently witnessed in his community but maybe something that we could support. The FNSW asked me if he could take Daniel and a few others to work on this interest; I believed this was a great opportunity so for 2 weeks, Nelson spent a few mornings a week drumming with Daniel and two others. What progressed after this changed the way I teach and live my life.

I asked Daniel if I could come watch one recess. I was blown away. Daniel was so into the drumming and singing that he would actually be sweating with pride as he was doing this. A few weeks later, I asked him if he could perform for our class - he unfortunately declined. Nelson encouraged him to sing and drum with him in front of our class. He nervously agreed and blew us all away when he performed; other students cheered when he finished and then asked if they could be part of “his group”. Daniel was now not only working with his strengths but also leading others to do the same. His group added girls and grew from 3 to 6 and then 8, including 2 students from another class. They played for our class every Monday morning, to start our week, and every Friday afternoon, to finish our week. They even gave themselves a name, Sacred Connections, and began to play for other schools and community events.

The moment that brought me almost to tears was right before Christmas. Each week, 1-2 new students would join up front in the singing and drumming. We often don’t see the impact of small changes but right before Christmas, the group actually had no people to play for, because every single student was up there singing with Daniel! To create an audience, I invited Roxanne and a grade 4 class to come and see the performance. We all sat there in awe of what Daniel had done not only as a performer, but also as a leader.

The other parts of Daniel’s school and life were drastically changing too. His friendships grew, his efforts in school improved and he became very engaged in learning activities. His reputation grew as a leader in the school and community and his group was asked to play at a local pre-Olympic Games (2010) event and in the spring he was asked to perform with Pow Wow drummers at a huge event in front of our entire school and community! Daniel had gone from a disengaged, quiet student who refused to take part in the learning to a proud leader and confident learner in our school.

That year was one that changed my life. It was not just one aha moment but a series of moments that shaped me as a person. I want to thank Roxanne, Nelson, and most importantly Daniel for teaching me that, as educators, the most important thing we can do is provide the optimal conditions for people to grow, bring out their strengths, and truly flourish.

10 comments:

Aviva said...

Wow Chris! What a beautiful post. Daniel was lucky to have you as his teacher. As much as he provided you with that A-ha Moment, I'm sure that you provided him with it too.

Thanks for sharing!
Aviva

Roxanne said...

Reading your words bring back the emotions of that whole experience, Chris. Sitting here with tears in my eyes and feeling so proud to have been a part of it. Margaret Whetaley comments, "In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions."
Students, parents, teachers and educational supporters are lucky to have such a strong leader with such passion and purpose!

nelson said...

Right on Chris!!!! So happy that you allowed something like this take place for this young man. Its true he didn't think about how much people he could reach out to with his gift... He and others did come a long ways. Its important to think about the positives that we are part of, because these are the moments that get us through the harder times when things get challenging. My hands go up to you for having such an open mind. Keep up the good work... and don't ever change that about yourself.

karissa.ringel said...

I have tears in my eyes and I wasn't even a part of the experience. This first year it has been difficult finding connections with the students who don't yet speak English confidently. Thank you for reminding me why I decided to teach!

Dom said...

hi mr wejr, mrs watson showed me the email you wrote about me and i thank you for that. it made me feel good about myself and i want to show my gramma so she can be proud of me

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Chris, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful snapshot of what the power of one person can do. Since you believed, encouraged, and supported this child, he did indeed move mountains much as we wish for any student. By him responding to your post shows, as well, the relationship that still exists between you and him and more importantly the trust that he has in you. We teachers can forget just how powerful we are, after all, the children believe in us. you believed in daniel and look at what it did, imagine if every adult was like that.

Domanic (Daniel) said...

Reading this makes me feel special about myself i thank you mr.wejr for writing this about me it made me so proud of myself when mrs watson read this to me i almost cried just to think that oh my gosh hes talking about me i was very lucky to have someone like you mr wejr (chris)to be my teacher/vice pricipal and mrs watson (roxanne)pricipal you are someone i trust and if something would happen at school or at home and i needed someone to talk to you mrs watson are the one whoed i want to talk to and mr wejr im glad you took the time to right something this great about me
-Domanic Francis (Daniel)

Chris Wejr said...

Of all the comments I could ever get on any blog, a comment from a student as special as Dom is the most powerful and meaningful. Thank you, Dom, for all that you have taught me.

gret said...

Wow! I'm in tears.
This is a wonderful Aha moment. A great reminder that we can truly make a difference for our children. Dom (Daniel) commenting on this post has really touched me. This is definitely one of the most wonderful stories I've ever read.
Chris, you're such an inspiring educator. I've learned so much from you. I'm sure this must have been one of the greatest moments in your teaching career. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Dom: I'm so proud of you. It's students like you that impact our lives the most. It's students like you that help us become better educators.
Thank you Chris and Dom for reminding me once again how amazing our job is. You made my day!

Paula Lee Bright said...

This is so exactly the right way to proceed with a child like Daniel!

You have it nailed, kiddo. It's so wonderful to hear about the successes in teaching, when all around us are the angry cries from the public, and the criticism from the government that should be helping us succeed.

I'm proud to have been a teacher. I wish I were still able. Maybe my site will allow me that, when it's ready to go live! I can hope.

Continue to do the good that you do. Congrats!

Aha! I love it.

 

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