Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Inclusion, and Me

I just got back from the Sunshine Coast with my family.  We stay in this great trailer a few paces back from my wife's parents' summer home that looks out on the water.  It is a pretty, glorious spot and we go there every year to frolic on the beach.  I always load up with audio books on my player so I can listen to stories and books while I am up there. 

This time, one of the books I listened to was Amy Schumer's book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.  While I won't be reading it aloud to my students or constructing Readers Theatre scripts to act out from it, I was struck by certain parts of the book.  As you know, Amy is one of the most outrageous stand up comics today, and her book is graphic, but it is also very candid.  One of the parts I was struck by was her declaration that she is an introvert.  Introversion is not a trait that I would associate with Amy Schumer but the way she described how, even though she can bare her soul in front of thousands of people during a stand-up concert at Madison Square Garden, she needs time to be alone to recharge and refocus.  She says she loves people but every human encounter is energy-sucking. 

I feel exactly the same way.  I am way more shy than Amy Schumer, but even still I related to loving to be with people but also needing to have some alone time.  I've written here before about Susan Cain's book, Alone, and how we introverts need time to ourselves, but hearing introversion from the point of view from Amy Schumer made me think about how shyness and introversion are not the same thing.   

I was at a session this year with the incredible inclusion guru, Shelley Moore.  She has these great stories about inclusion in her book, One Without the Other, which reads like you are having a nice conversation with Shelley.  She tells these very personal and relatable stories from her experiences of how teachers can include every student in every classroom.  She gives well-attended, energetic workshops, getting people to belly dance to show how everyone starts from different places, or she relates bowling to inclusive learning.  People love Shelley because she tells stories that make people feel something and rethink how we include different kinds of learners. 

But the declaration that made me think the most was when she confessed she is an introvert.  I was floored!  Here was this incredibly charismatic, non-wallflowery speaker who has auditoriums of people in the palm of her hand, telling me what an introvert she is.  She explained that she likes giving lectures and presentations because it is just her talking, and it is not really an interchange between her and others which she would find unnerving.  And when she gets home, the couch and Netflix look pretty good and she will be in for the night.

What does this have to do with classroom design?

A teacher emailed me in June after reading parts of my blog and was asking me for advice about how her classroom could accommodate different kids of learners. She said that it was easy to come up with the Campfire (a communal place where the whole class could meet for large group discussions or instruction) and Watering Holes (smaller places where pairs or small groups could work together), but she was having difficulty coming up with Caves (places of isolation where students could work by themselves undisturbed).  She asked if she could come by and look at my classroom to see how I'd set up my Cave places. 

I was writing back, "Sure...".  Until I looked at my classroom.  Over the previous months, I had been rearranging my classroom to include vertical work spaces for group work, or moving things out from the walls to display some projects, or widening our role-playing Social Studies interactive bulletin board.  These adjustments and others had slowly chipped away from my Cave spaces.  I hadn't even noticed I'd eliminated them!  And looking back, I realised that the students who needed them the most had missed them too but hadn't noticed or hadn't said anything.  (Oh, that's why K kept crawling under the risers.  Oh, that's why normally social R stopped playing with people and would draw by herself at the end of the day. Oh, that's why T burrowed himself into the box of cardboard scraps,  etc.).  It all made sense.  In retrospect.

As Shelley might remind me, "If you are going to have supports in your classroom, you have to make them available to students and let them know the supports are there for them."

As Susan Cain might remind me, "Introverts should be celebrated, so make space for them."

As Amy Schumer might remind me, "You're ****ing taking educational advice from me?  No ****ing way!  Get the **** out of here!   No, I mean it--go so I can be alone now.""