Tuesday, September 29

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Finally, we’re norming.

I feel like Huckleberry Prep has just been a constant four-week slog of storming. There was never a perfect day where goals were met, students were eager to learn and be challenged, and I didn’t feel like a chicken with my head cut off. Finally, we’re norming.

Bruce Tuckman, a renowned organizational psychologist, developed the Tuckman’s stages of group development to suggest the various stages of growth a group goes through when seeking to accomplish a task. These four stages are forming, storming, norming, performing. I ripped the definitions below straight from Wikipedia because I’m lazy and it's 10:55 PM.

Forming: The team meets and learns about the opportunities and challenges, and then agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks.

Storming: This stage often starts when they voice their opinions and, as a result of this, a conflict may arise between team members as power and status are assigned

Norming: In this stage, all team members take responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals. They start tolerating the whims and fancies of the other team members. They accept others as they are and make an effort to move on.

Performing: With group norms and roles established, group members focus on achieving common goals, often reaching an unexpectedly high level of success

Tuckman is quick to mention that a group doesn’t progress through these stages in any particular order. Teams can float through all for stages at any time and for any reason. For example, ASD announced that school will be back in session on October 19th. There’s a lot of skepticism around if the school will really open. If it does, then Huckleberry Prep as it is now will go back to the drawing board. We’ll be forming.

Just for the sake of digesting this past month and helping to get out of my own head, below are some of the highlights from the last month of storming

Michael’s Therapy: I’m not shy of therapy and don’t necessarily think its a bad thing. I’ve gone to therapy. While it helped, I don’t know if it was worth the money. However, Michael’s therapy? Worth every penny. Marie Priest with Psychology Resources is a godsend. We call Marie the Feeling’s Doctor, and she has given Michael so many essential tools to help decompress through stress and challenges, respect himself and others, and develop healthy relationships with his peers and family.

Breakfast Champions: One of Marie’s tools was the Compliment Plate. This tool has been the crux of Michael’s therapy and deserves its own section. The activity revolves around a designated person being served a plate of compliments from their peers/family. The activity is meant to help bolster their self-esteem and foster respect and appreciation amongst those that participate. We’ve adapted this activity to have it first thing in the morning.

There are five children. There are five school days. Each child gets a turn to be the Breakfast Champion. Great! Anything to help the children get a nice morning pep talk from the group. Well in the first week when it was Michael’s turn, no one had anything good to say about him. I don’t allow the children to criticize anyone during the activity that would take away from the point of the exercise, but I also was unwilling to coerce a compliment. Who want’s a fake compliment? So ALL the children elected to pass. It was devastating.

Conflicting Schedules: I underestimated the incredible challenges associated with coordinating three different school/curriculum schedules. Even with going to Calvert Learning, there were 2–3 weeks of ASD teachers figuring their shit out, Calvert Learning not being operational, varying times for language immersion ZOOMs, the overwhelming (or underwhelming) amount of immersion coursework, and the daily demands of five children under the age of 7 all trying to participate in school with some modicum of “I have my shit together, we’re cool.”

Be a Big Boy: The worst part of coordinating all of these schedules is that really left Michael to sink or swim. I don’t think it set in how little support I was providing him until I found him crying over his work — not once, but three times. The self-anger and frustration at his inability to do his work were palpable. I could just see a negative stream of consciousness spewing out of him, “I’m not smart enough;” “Why can’t I get it?;” “Why do I have to do this all by myself?;” “I need help, but there’s no one to help me;” “I don’t want to ask for help. It means I’m not competent.”

I took my seeing him in this state to realize what I’m doing isn’t working. COVID school is hard enough to do with ample support. Having to go at it solo as a 7-year-old? Yeah, let me get a side of therapy with that.

Martha’s Love/Hate Relationship with School: Either Martha’s daily complaints about being in school are lessening or I’m just getting a thicker skin. I still haven’t completely figured her out. It's my daily challenge. To be honest, some days I’m up for the challenge; some days I’m not. My biggest concern with her is to quote her other teachers, “She marches on Martha time”

Martha Time: In my calculus of how Martha’s learning is progressing (or not progressing), I realize that I’m not a certified teacher. I don’t have years of experience tailoring curriculum to meet the needs/interests of a variety of students and personalities. My knowledge is limited. Despite this limitation, Martha regularly lags in her basic knowledge of Math and English. I can’t speak to her Chinese well, but it doesn’t look like she’s developing a strong working foundation in the language either. (On the Chinese front, I don’t think her Chinese teacher is helping much)

It’s not fair to compare her to Kona and Traxson. I wish there was a normative sample that could better assess her knowledge and skills. From what I see in the classroom, these are my observations

Math: She can count to ten. She can even add and subtract within 0–9, sometimes. She struggles counting past 10, and forget getting her to spell her letters. Not gonna happen.

English: She has tremendous difficulty sounding out words. Her knowledge base of phonetics is stunting her ability to keep up with the other 1st-grade curriculum. She has an extremely limited vocabulary of sight words. When we’re reading in class, she just parrots what Kona and Traxson read. I have no confidence she’s actually reading. On the subject of writing, I don’t know who suffers more her or I — it’s excruciating.

Chinese: What the fuck is Yeung Laoshure doing? The vast majority of time during the Chinese ZOOMs, Martha is just doodling. While I don’t condone this behavior, Yeung Laoshure doesn’t seem to care. There’s no effort on his end to solicit responses from the children. He simply talks at the children and hopes someone engages with him. *eyeroll*

Kona & Traxson: These boys are so lucky to have each other. They’re good for each other’s learning. The only criticism that I have is that in their ZOOMs they get distracted with each other and don’t listen to Mahugh Sensei.

BUT GUESS WHAT?! Mahugh Sensei calls me and suggested that I separate them for their ZOOMs. Now that the boys are separated, they have no issues focusing on the lesson as Mahugh Sensei calls out to them to participate in reading their Japanese Letters, reading Japanese flashcards, and engaging in Japanese conversation.

Huckleberry Prep has convinced me that a teacher is worth their weight in gold.

I had a particularly exhausting day last Friday that prompted this post. While this post may have been difficult to read, today was a good day.

  • I swear Traxson said that he didn’t want the school day to end. (Even if he recanted those words minutes later. No take-backs!)
  • Martha didn’t want to come to lunch she was so engrossed in her English Language Monster game.
  • Michael and I have scheduled early morning sessions to have some 1:1 time. He’s an early riser so the 1:1 time has been a welcomed opportunity for us to touch base, work through some of the more difficult lessons, and make a plan for the day.

I’m optimistic. I’m tired, but optimistic. I’m reminded of the Bansky quote, “If you get tired, learn to rest not quit.” Momma didn’t raise a quitter! I’ll see you all tomorrow.