An anecdote from As I Took My Walk With God II: Greatness Was Upon Them.
The Greatness Talk
Place: Greatness Room, Late In 2016-2017 School Year
Intro: Do Your Part
Opening the talk, I let the kids know that 16 of them would have passed the Math Benchmark if they had correctly bubbled in their fill-in-the-blank questions. That’s 76 percent.
I didn’t stop there.
One student made a 40 and didn’t even study.
Me to Him: Would you have done better if you studied?
Him: Yes (Nodding his head)
There was another student who made a 45. He didn’t study, either, claiming that his phone didn’t work. (I know, the classic dog-ate-my-homework excuse.)
Me To Him: “Your notebook doesn’t work? I know we’ve had checkpoints, and you’ve left your math notebook on your desk. You even left your Writing STAAR binder on your desk before Spring Break.”
1st Principle: The Benchmark
After that, I transitioned to talking about the Reading Benchmark by thanking the kids for doing what I asked: putting a smile on Ms. Dixon’s face. She was happy with their improvement. And that’s saying a lot. She holds the same high standard that I do.
You’ve improved but 61.9 percent isn’t good enough. That means 38.1 percent of you failed. I don’t accept that.
No more writing stories or reading picture books for “When I’m Done” time. You need to read. Not comic books or magazines but chapter books.
2nd Principle: Friends Help Each Other
The conversation shifted to friends. I focused on two students. The students always bring up the fact that they go on playdates and hang out on weekends.
One is a strong speller but struggles with reading comprehension. The other does well with reading comprehension but isn’t a strong speller.
I asked: Why don’t y’all help each other? That’s what real friends do.
Then I highlighted two other students who facetime all the time but don’t have anyone at home to study with them.
Me: “Why don’t y’all Facetime and help each other study?”
At that point, I had a message for the kids who were upset that they failed the test.
Me: If you failed, why are you playing at recess? It’s ok to play for about ten minutes. The rest of the time you need to be reading or studying your vocabulary words.
Final Principle: It’s A Small Word
With all the talk about losing, I decided to share some more of my backstory with the kids. I told them that I worked security, but it wasn’t very secure. It’s a job that I quit after my last assignment. The decision wasn’t an easy one. I dealt with opposition from my family. I was told that I was lazy and didn’t want to work.
Also, I lived by myself and had bills. I couldn’t pay those or rent. Eventually, I was evicted. That all led to a point where I was homeless for a day. It was one of the worst feelings of my life. But I wasn’t just homeless because I didn’t have anywhere to stay. I had a bad relationship with my sister at the time. So, I couldn’t stay with her.
It was a tough situation but I vowed: “Never Again.”
I did get a job. Lost it. I kept on pushing, though. Then I got hired in education. Now, I’m here, and I know that I was meant to be here.
Why? I found out that a person, whom I struck up a friendship with at my last assignment as a security guard, is good friends and college classmates with one of their classmate’s dad.
Of course, they wondered which classmate. So, I told them.
One student opined: Small World.
I let them know that she has improved more than anybody.
Closing: Get Tired of Losing
At that moment, I got emotional. I didn’t cry, but I almost did.
Gathering myself, I kept with the talk on losing. I told them about my development as a writer. I started from the beginning. I was in Basic English my first year in college, because I didn’t score high enough on a college-entrance test(A.C.T.).
Even as a college student, I still struggled. I would get a 100 for content and get marked down for grammar and punctuation. The same stuff they struggled with, but I was grown.
They’re in the 4th grade.
I struggled some more as I became a writer professionally. People clowned on me for my grammar…publicly.
Once people did that enough, I decided I was tired of losing. So, when my articles were published, I’d print out the edited version and compare it to my rough draft–identifying my grammatical errors.
Gradually, my grammar and punctuation improved. I wanted to take it to the next level, though.
I sent my articles to national writers. They gave me critiques, which took my writing to another level.
Focusing on the Benchmarks again, I brought up the theme of the week: “Don’t Worry About They.”
Whatever you make on the Benchmark, then that’s what you’ll make on the STAAR.
Students started grumbling…
Deadpanning: Who Is They? I don’t care about They. They don’t matter. We’re The Greatness Room. We’re Great.”
Chants are all good and stuff. But I don’t want you to talk about being Great. I wanted you to shh(finger on lips)…show me.
The speech was long (30 or more minutes) but necessary. I wanted my babies to understand Greatness and what it takes to reach it.
Epilogue: They Reached Greatness
Throughout the day, the kids displayed a different level of focus.
For example, as I reviewed vocabulary words and worked through a reading passage, they were energetic and engaged.
I loved it.
Another example: Before the math lesson (Converting Measurements), I challenged the kids. I wanted 100 percent on the exit ticket.
What percentage of them got the exit ticket correct? 100 percent(Phenomenal).
Shortly after this speech, they reached greatness, and I fulfilled my promise to show them what Phenomenal looked like and turned my room into The Phenomenal Room.
Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short