Do you want to know the really fulfilling parts of my day?
- A kindergarten student who had a difficult time during the transition at the end of my class last week successfully made it out the door, got his shoes on and made it down the hall to lunch today. He needed some support, but he did it. And that felt huge.
- I made a connection with one of our new third grade students today. He had fled his classroom and was taking some time for himself in the hallway. I noticed his body language ("Your face is going like this. Your fists are going like this. Something must have happened."). He nodded. Then I asked if he wanted to talk about it or wanted some more time to keep calming down. He said, "Keep calming down." So I waited a few moments, then let him know that in order for me to keep him safe I was going to let the office know where he was standing, but that if he ever wanted to talk he could ask a teacher to help him find me. He gave my hand a squeeze. I have a feeling we're going to end up being buddies.
- Several very minor issues popped up during testing. They always do. But I was able to solve several of those problems while maintaining my composure.
Why were these the big moments in my day? Because in these moments I had meaningful jobs to do.
There are pieces of the Conscious Discipline pie that I bought into fairly quickly but a others that I've struggled to embrace. Often it's because those are the structures that I don't see fitting into my dance room in the same way they do in a typical classroom. One of my big struggles has been with the concept of meaningful jobs.
The idea is to give each child in your class a specific job to do that benefits the whole group. In a typically classroom you'll see children doing jobs like being the line leader, the lunch table cleaner, the pencil sharpener, etc. But those aren't jobs that I need done in my dance room. So rather than taking the time to think about how to solve this problem, I kept pushing it aside. Then one summer while I was at a retreat, someone challenged me to rethink my position (or lack thereof) on meaningful jobs. He took the time to call someone he knew who was halfway across the country so we could ask her how she managed to have meaningful jobs in her music class. By the time we'd ended our conversation I didn't feel better about the whole idea, but I did feel obligated to give it a try since both of them had given up their time to talk with me and since he even helped me brainstorm a list of jobs. So when I went back to school that year I very begrudgingly started giving my elective students jobs.
And it worked! The greeter, instead of dawdling in the hallway, was hurrying to get to class quickly so he could greet everyone. The kindness recorder helped us all to be more aware of other's kindness toward us. And (this is my favorite!) when the phone rang during class one day my quietest student bellowed, "Wait! That's my job! I'm the secretary!"
So what's the significance of these meaningful jobs? Meaningful jobs give each of us a purpose. When we have a job for which we're solely responsible we have a reason for being here. Children are more likely to be physically and mentally present in our classrooms when they have specific jobs (one parent shared that following her daughter's dentist appointment she asked her if she wanted to come back to school or go home, to which the child replied, "I have to go to school - I'm the DJ in Mrs. Frasier's class this week!").
Over the past two years I've embraced the practice of giving students meaningful jobs, but it's been only after some reflecting that I've come to see their importance in my own life. I recently found myself in a position where I knew I wanted to help someone but I wasn't sure what to do. As I watched, others seemed to do the jobs I typically would have done to help. But then I'd see a need, think "I can do that" and step right to it. Eventually, though, I noticed a pattern. Another well-meaning friend would see the job I was doing and take it over and/or complete it for me. At first I couldn't put my finger on it. She was just trying to help, so why did I feel so out of place? And then I realized - in those moments I didn't have a job. I didn't have a purpose for being there. And it was the oddest feeling.
Teachers often ask me if all students really need to have jobs. "Can't I just rotate the jobs so some have them this week and others have them next week?" "Can a group of children share the same job and just take turns doing it?" But I get it now. We ALL need to feel like we contribute to the greater good. We ALL need to feel like we have a place in this world. We ALL need to have meaningful jobs.