Touchstone Moment of my Teaching Career

Ben Wilkoff is the Director of Personalized Professional Learning in Denver Public Schools and he is an educator that I really admire. I’ve been to several conferences and classes that he’s taught and I really love what he’s trying to do with PD and technology and I really aspire to be more like him.

Ben recently started a youtube/twitter series (see the original series here) where people can ask him questions and he answers them on his walk to work. Recently he posted a video answering the following question that I thought would be a really good one for me to reflect on as well: What was one touchstone moment of your teaching career that you carry with you?

It’s really important for us as educators to be reflective and think about our day to day, and what went well, and what could have gone better, and what we could do differently next time. Reflecting on my day to day classroom was one of the reasons I started this blog. It forces me to stop and think and not just plow through. So I pondered this question for a bit and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Astronomy is the largest science unit that I teach my third graders, and through the years of teaching it, I’ve really come to enjoy learning about astronomy on my own time. I love how there are new developments coming up in this field every day. My kids and I once spent an entire afternoon watching the MAVEN satellite launch. We watched Chris Hadfield’s youtube videos of what it was like for him living on the International Space Station. We learn to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity and They Might Be Giant’s Why Does the Sun Shine?

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The kids really understand that it is something I am passionate about and all year long I get drawings of the solar system and space themed gifts from them. We really do go above and beyond what I am required to teach them.

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I teach my students about the Space Shuttle program and in past years the subject of the Challenger explosion had come up and I often swept it under the rug, fearing they would get upset, fearing they wouldn’t be able to handle it, fearing the angry parent emails I would get that night. They are just third graders after all.

Well, my touchstone moment came last year when I really felt convicted to talk to my kids about the Challenger. Before we started our discussion I told the kids that this was a difficult subject to talk about, but just because things are hard doesn’t mean we should ignore them. We learn so much from the past. An event like the challenger explosion had such a huge impact on not only the shuttle program and NASA, but everyone in the country was impacted by this tragedy.

There is usually a lot of silliness and goofyness to be had in my classroom, but I was absolutely amazed by these eight and nine year olds’ serious attitude towards this subject. We talked about empathy and how we felt for those astronauts and their families. We researched Christa McAuliffe and thought about what her students must have been feeling. We talked about having good character and the courage it takes for every astronaut to do their job, especially the astronauts that went up right after the Challenger.

By the time I showed the video of the actual live news footage there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but not because they were irrationally upset in a bad way. They had a much better understanding of empathy, and the richness of our history in astronomy, and our need for exploration. And we also tied that to the future journey to Mars. They showed incredible maturity, even if just for that morning, and it was incredibly powerful to see.

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This touchstone moment really taught me to never put kids in a box and say they can’t handle that or they aren’t capable of this, because however high we put the bar, they will rise to the occasion.

What was one touchstone moment of your teaching career that you carry with you?  

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