My husband and I visited Waco to tour all things Magnolia back in June. It was an amazing trip — I love going on trips to new places because I can let my brain relax, and I feel so inspired. Magnolia was no exception – inspiration is everywhere. So, I said I can let my brain relax, but what really happens is that it just gets filled up with all kinds of new ideas at every turn because of all the awesomeness around me. Chip and Jo have truly built an empire that personifies their greeting “Welcome Home.” If you read my previous blog post where you toured my classroom, then you know my classroom theme is the journey, but it’s focused on reminding students that home is at the center. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that for inspiration. So, here’s what my trip to Magnolia taught me about teaching – and you’ll see that these are things I can do in my classroom, changes and implementations and thought processes that require nothing from admin or anyone else – just me.
Make my classroom a place where “Everyone has a seat at the table.” The first place we visited on our trip was Magnolia Table, the newly renovated restaurant. We had, of course, watched the episode where they remodeled it, and I remember Joanna discussing how she wanted it to be a place were all people could come together and enjoy great food and great company. The restaurant is beautiful, as expected, and she has a variety of seating arrangements. Above one of the larger community tables is the beautiful metal artwork sign made by Jimmy Don that reads, “Where Everyone Has a Seat at the Table.” It has a huge presence in the restaurant, and it spoke to me immediately. The students who come into my classroom are from all different families, friend groups, backgrounds, experiences, and ability levels. Because we are a very small, rural school, a lot of times we do know each other’s names at least, but when I think about a table symbolically, there’s so much more there with that idea. To me, it reminds me to get to know the students beyond that and see from their point of view, and I want them to do that for each other, too. I want to invite all voices to speak in discussion. This one is especially difficult because students are so shy or uncertain or they think what they have to say isn’t good enough. I work for weeks getting all kids to open up. Sometimes I have to just sit and wait – it’s that important. When I make worksheets, I need to represent as many different types of students as possible. Reading selections should be carefully curated so that all students have an opportunity to see themselves and see others. I want them to know that when they walk into my classroom that they – each student as an individual – has a place.
Take something that seems like it’s nothing and make it great. If you watched Chip and Jo’s show, Fixer Upper, then you know they are in the construction business to buy houses and fix them up to sell. Many of the houses they have chosen to remodel have been forgotten by the masses. Nobody has “the guts to take on a fixer upper,” so these houses with beautiful bones are just rotting to the ground. My husband and I do some work with construction and remodeling, and often times we get into some we want to run from. But, we have to step back and see the potential- it has good bones, they say. This one hits home hard when I think about the students in my classroom. From struggling learners to excelling learners to the well-behaved student to the trouble-maker, there’s always something that can be transformed in them. It’s when I had the struggling learners for so many years that it sometimes became hard to even want to look for the potential. We sometimes want to run in the other direction or complain about what students come into our classroom. Eventually this became my prayer: God, place the students who need me to see them and their potential in my classroom and give me the grace and strength to get the job done. Any kid who comes into our classroom has the ability to grow and be transformed, and we have to be willing to pick up our tools and go to work. I don’t want to run from the challenge, but rather I want to be part of the before and after – the amazing reveal – at the end of the year. I’m honored to have been selected and placed in the role of having a small part in helping to build these students into who they will be someday.
Seek feedback and put it to use. At breakfast, we had a lovely conversation with one of the managers who was a friend of Joanna’s mom. She, of course, asked us about our breakfast (which was amazing. More on that later.) She told us that since they are relatively new to the food industry, they are always learning. Part of that process, she said, is gathering and implementing feedback. At Magnolia, they ask visitors to give feedback via their website, and they have learned everything from how to improve processes to what new items to add to the menu. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to ask my students their thoughts on lessons, assignments, projects, the novel excerpt, etc. So how does that look? After we finish a lesson, I ask them what else do they need to know or do to have it. After a virtual discussion with them on their thesis checkpoints, I’ll ask them was that enough help. Do they have enough info to go forward? After we finish a project, I’ll ask them was it interesting, helpful, useful, etc. I ask them what works and what doesn’t. Some responses aren’t helpful, but most actually are. I genuinely want and need to know what I can do to help them. Plus, this process helps them to help themselves, too. The process of me asking for feedback teaches them not only how to think critically from outside an assignment, but it also shows them that I genuinely care and value their role in their own learning and in my teaching. It lets the wear the teacher tool belt, of sorts.
Differentiation is a must. I have been having health issues for some time, and at the beginning of the year, I found out that I was going to have to change my diet completely. I am now 100% gluten free, and I also have to stay away from certain foods that aren’t low FODMAP. It has been a process, and in many cases I can’t enjoy what others are eating. So, when I’m traveling I’m always apprehensive about what choices I’ll have. Magnolia is obviously largely about enjoying food, but I had just planned to make the best of it. To my surprise, Magnolia Table has several amazing gluten-free options and so did the bakery! I was thrilled to be able to have the french toast and the avocado toast at breakfast (we ate there twice LOL). This was amazing for two reasons: french toast is my favorite breakfast dish and the avocado toast was one of Jo’s specials. Then we visited the bakery, and while I didn’t get to try the “wow” cupcakes (according to my hubby), I was able to select from three tasty cookies. Even one of the food trucks on the lawn at the Silos had a unique option for me to try. Now, not every dish was available in gluten free; no cupcakes were either; and not every food truck was able to make a gluten-free creation. The fact still remains, though, that some of the most important items had been differentiated. In our classrooms, differentiation is important because some kids have specific needs that must be met differently in order for them to be healthy – educationally speaking. One size certainly does not fit all when it comes to instruction. We have to offer a different creation that they can digest. That is not to say that everything we do needs to be created all anew. If I did that for every class of 28-34 students I had for three sections, I wouldn’t survive even one semester. It is not feasible to make 20 different flavors of this or that or 20 different math worksheets. What we can do is recreate what is necessary, and work to provide extra support and options on other items where time, energy, and personnel allows. Menu boards, task cards, video links, pre-annotated texts, or dictionaries all provide differentiation in ways that make it possible serve all learners without exhausting yourself. In some cases, we may even have to face that not all students will complete all tasks – but what we can ensure is that all students complete the task that allows him or her to grow and feel fulfilled.
Give them an experience. One of my biggest take-aways from my trip to Magnolia was the feeling of the environment. Not only was everything beautifully created and designed (and I loved all the shout-outs to books and literacy), but it smelled good, and it was clean. Most importantly and impressively, though, at every door there was a staff member to open it for us, smile, and say hello and welcome. Welcome. The feeling of being invited and wanted. I want my students to know they are welcome and wanted. Like I said before we are in a very rural area where many students live in transient housing and family lives are unstable, but that could be true in any demographic. Students are in my classroom for just a short time each day, but I want to be there to welcome them and let them know they are wanted. Your room doesn’t have to be beautiful or amazing, but a nice smell along with some sense of cleanliness and order does help the learning experience. It is often over-quoted, but the old saying of “People won’t remember what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel” is so true. Welcome home, students, welcome home.
As school starts soon for me… it’s almost #demoday! In fact, aren’t we all just a bunch of fixer uppers?
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