A Reflection: Teaching Service & Gaining Affirmations

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“No Gifts this Christmas!” That was my Christmas 2016 declaration for my godchildren. Although worried that others may have the impression of me being cruel to my 10 and 12-year-old godchildren; I could justify my declaration.

  1. I believe in investing in experiences. Often aligning these experience to what they are studying in school. These experiences are necessary support to their achievement in school and quality of life.
  2. As they grow older, they are developing an awareness of wealth and it’s perceived connection to success. With this growing knowledge, there seems to be little consideration of the efforts “successful” people put into acquiring their wealth.
  3. My godchildren have the fortune of being raised by a village. In this village their primary responsibilities are to:
    • Attend to the lessons that will make them healthy human beings and
    • Attend to their studies.

I grow concerned that they are not prioritizing their responsibilities as they should. I do not want them to develop a sense of entitlement. Christmas 2016 was an opportunity to work on this. I set out to provide a different type of experience that would help my godchildren understand the value of service and the meaning of gratitude. They did not receive toys or gadgets for Christmas this year. Instead, we would serve together to feed the homeless in our community.

We walked to the venue. During our walk, Isaac asked, “Chaunté, what are we going to be doing?” I replied, “Feed the homeless.” He then looked at me as a know it all 12-year-old would and said, “But WHAT are we going to be doing?” I explained we would help where we could. I did not have a clue as to the specifics of this experience. For them, feeding the homeless resulted in many lessons. In this experience, I found several affirmations for me as an educator:

  1. The Value of the Hidden Curriculum! Hidden curriculum are those covert or unintended learning opportunities that are developed throughout or embedded in an intended lesson or curriculum. The skilled educator can find these opportunities and deepen learning to create relevance for students. Our four block walk, is one I often make and take for granted; however, they were curious with many questions about people and things we encountered along the way. Acknowledging their questions and finding answers along the way allowed me to create lessons for them and expand a context I never bothered to acknowledge.

Educators are the content experts of their classrooms; content knowledge can easily be taken for granted. What we know may look and appear very different through the lens of the children we serve. For fear of getting “off pace,” or not being explicitly included in the curriculum guide we may not embrace their questioning and queries. Be aware and embrace the hidden curriculum. Hidden curriculum provides valuable learning experiences too.

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Distributing toiletries

  1. The Value of Student Autonomy in Learning! I was worried they may be paralyzed with discomfort. Upon arrival, we had to “jump in” to help and they looked at me baffled as to what they were supposed to do. I gave them the following directions, “You see the man in the red shirt? Ask him if you can assist with handing out the toiletries.” The first 5 minutes they were paralyzed. My goddaughter, even looking back at me with confusion. Within the next five minutes, they were independently distributing materials. As toiletries were no longer available they began to distribute socks. As they served more people, I heard their wishes to have a “Merry Christmas” become stronger and more confident. They even decided to enhance the experience and entertain by playing music from the new cell phones. They became so committed to their assignments that they would even come from around the table to run and find people who missed picking up toiletries and socks as they came through the line. The humbling reality is that I did not have to do everything in order for them to engage and learn the intended lessons. All I had to do was create the opportunity; they were empowered to build the bridge. They turned this experience into one of the their own and brought some of themselves to it.

How awesome would classrooms be if we gave our students the opportunities to explore during learning more often? When they have the directions, tools, know what they are supposed to obtain at the end of their engagement; let them. They will meet and exceed expectations. The inability to provide student autonomy is stifling to their learning at in-depth levels. Allowing students to bring parts of themselves to their learning opportunities creates levels of relevance and a sense of achievement that we as educators cannot create for them.

  1. The Value of Curriculum Connections! On our walk home I questioned the pair, “What was interesting today?” Isaac responds, “I have never done this before. That made it interesting for me.” This was a shocking reality for me. The many donations we made purging closets and pantries in the name of service to others; I never provided them with the connecting experience of seeing and knowing how their efforts impacted other people. I set out to teach them to be servants and gracious givers; but did not provide the connection for them to fully understand the concept.

As educators, we provide great lesson plans, unpack the content to its foundation but often miss providing the experiences that provide the conceptual understanding. Curriculum connections are critical to students acquisition and comprehension of what it is intended for them to learn. Opportunities to engage authentically and immerse themselves is key to developing conceptual understanding of the content.

  1. The Value of Service! As we continued our walk, I continued to probe. “What did you see?” They questioned seeing children in the serving line; I explained that children are homeless because their parents are homeless. This was an unfathomable reality. They recalled seeing people juggle multiple plates of food and bags of food. I explained that this was because they did not know when they would receive a meal again. As I explained, we were passing the park just as the many served were unpacking their dinner plates. As we approached the house, Isaac turns to me and asked, “Chaunté, how do we keep them from being homeless?” I was proud; because he “got it,” and yet ashamed, because with all the effort to teach the lesson, I did not have the answer. I gave him the best I could at the time; honesty. “Son, I do not know. People are homeless for a lot of different reasons. As we learn their needs, we can try to help them.” He responded, “Well what do we do?” I am surprised at his probe of me now. “We can help in the ways we have: collect clothes, food, and assisting like today,” I needed him to know his previous efforts were accounted for and then followed up with, “I think we ensure we are always able to serve and make sure we continue to serve.”

As educators, we all have a classroom of children or a child that baffles us and challenges every best practice we know. We want so much for them, their circumstances, their qualities of life, their lack of support are constant hindrances to their success. There is no simple, one solution. We CAN dissect and develop the learning opportunities and experiences that will expose students to the hidden curriculum, give them the autonomy to develop in their own learning and provide the appropriate connections. WE CAN CONTINUE TO SERVE.

The holiday break is a time for educators to rejuvenate. Reflecting upon Christmas 2016, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time learning and growing with the children I love. I am grateful for the affirmations gained in practice that I can employ with the students I serve when we return to school in the new year.

What affirmed best practices are you looking forward to using in your service? I welcome you to share.

2 Comments

Very nicely done. Powerful message.

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Outstanding article! Very good teaching!

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