Cross-pollination: Reflecting on How Student’s Interests have Formed me this Year, and vice versa

I’ve been blessed this year with thoughtful, kindhearted students. As a whole, my 3rd and 4th grade classes each have their own unique characters. Fourth grade is much like a bookish older brother, while 3rd grade is a slightly insecure younger sister who loves craft projects. While it’s been an interesting year to see these trends emerge, I am already wondering what traits will strengthen and diminish as we (God willing) head into a more normal school year in the fall.

As both individuals and classes, young humans are unique. In practice, most educators no longer ascribe to John Locke’s 17th century concept of tabula rasa. The majority of educators I’ve seen make a concerted effort to acknowledge the unique gifts, talents, and interested students bring to the classroom, instead of viewing their students’ as consumers. At the same time, it goes without saying that all teachers are unique, and carry their own mixture of gifts. Before the school year comes to a close, I want to share what I’ve learned from my students’, and what I’ve observed them absorbing from me.

Think of this table as a kind of Venn Diagram. On the left are my interests, on the right are students’ interests, and in the middle are things we have in common. As the colors shift from red to yellow to green, that represents a deepening interest or comfort with a specific topic.

At the Beginning

Two-Thirds Down: As of March 14th

What they’ve received from Me

Focus on the Nations and Prayer

At the beginning of the year, not many of my students were comfortable with praying out loud. Through our Praying for the Nations projects, students became increasingly comfortable praying as both individuals and as members in a group. They allowed me to take them down a road of prayer that most wouldn’t have chosen, but many enjoyed. I saw students energized by the importance of their prayers, and their passion providing opportunities for them to step outside of self-consciousness to focus on others. I saw very unmotivated students pour their hearts into prayer. I also saw students develop a healthy curiosity about other countries, learn how to google information like pros, and internalize some basic concepts of intercession (like praying for the opposite thing to be released over a region, praying specifically about wars/regional conflicts, etc). Wow!

Praying for Enemies

This was a harder sell, but by praying for the people who led the Capitol Insurrection and talking about how it felt to be DC residents during that time, we really tapped into something powerful. Students are beginning to complain less about people who they disagree with politically and pray more for them. They are starting to see the connections between sacrificial forgiveness for those who hurt us and how conviction from the Holy Spirit can change people’s hearts.

Praying Healing over Past Enemies of War

I barely touched on the concept of praying for our past enemies and for the wound of war to be healed, but something deep inside of students just understood. Praise God!

Seeing God in All Subjects

When we met, students were not used to seeing Jesus as Lord of all subjects. As they’ve noticed connections between topics they once saw as separate, they are starting to see God’s closeness in all things. This has involved reflection and Bible study, as well as plenty of support from me, helping to bridge the gap. Studying concrete examples of people who were led from faith into social action has helped them understand (ex: stories of Saints who loved animals, like Francis of Assisi). I am praying that God will continue to develop their insight, as it can take a while for them to see that God is simultaneously greater than our understanding AND within the facts.

Believing that the Gospel is the key for Changing Hearts (and Social Change)

This is probably my greatest contribution this year. The kids seem to know that I care about this more than anything else, and seem to be intentionally clued into this concept across subjects. May genuine Christlike love always lead us into the unknown to follow Jesus!

What I’ve received from them

Tender Love of Animals (like you love your own heart)

I have been just overwhelmed by students’ love for animals this year. Their passion has caused me to reflect on the ways I interacted with animals at their age, and the emotions behind feeling grief over the brokenness of creation. Check out this post about what those conversations have looked like!

Environmentalism

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve gotten a little too sloppy in my habits. I just was not as convicted as I should have been when it comes to energy conservation, recycling, and more. My students’ sincere concern for the islands of trash in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans really changed me.

Organic Connection

Throughout the school year and like all years, I’ve listened to my students eagerly and enjoyed figuring them out. This year, my students had so many questions for me about what it meant to be an adult, what it means to grow older, and about me in general. In my last school, we had to skip morning meetings and other important rituals because my administrators saw connection as an enemy of learning (it was not valued in and of itself). It took me a while to realize that I had permission to make connection central and not something that had to be snuck in almost secretively. If I’m being honest, this is one thing I picked up from my former workplace that has taken time to unlearn, but my students are sincere and savvy. I’m excited to have another year with my 3rd graders, and see my 4th graders thrive in the challenge of middle school.

More in the Moment, Less Task-Oriented

Having more freedom and autonomy to manage my day has allowed me to be much more in the moment with student interests. Them being so young has also forced me to set aside my grown up cares in order to have fun and meet them where they’re at. To be fair, balance has been hard to come by during this time of distance learning, but I’ve gotten us into a routine of shutting off screens over snack and lunch, and writing, reading, or socializing face to face after our morning and afternoon Zoom calls. I’m reflecting this week on how Benedictine rhythms can further balance and strengthen these opportunities once we return from Spring Break.

Conclusion

As I plan for next Quarter and next school year, it’s refreshing to see how much there still is to learn, but how much we’ve learned already. I have a couple tricks up my sleeve to end the school year strong. For now, I will use the rest of my Spring Break to store up rest like a cactus takes in water.

Published by Haley Nus

I am a bilingual Christian Educator in the heart of D.C. who longs to see revival transform K-12 education both domestically and internationally. I believe that inquiry-based and experiential teaching methods pair seamlessly with godly awe and point us through the gospel towards a Creator who invites us to taste and see his goodness (Psalm 34:8). While I love sharing the gospel with people, I take Jesus's invitation to welcome children in his name (Luke 9:48) and Jesus's exhortation to become like children (Mathew 18:3) literally! In order to shape the world well for adults, we must serve the youngest among us so that we will truly understand who we are as sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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