Jan 302014


A few weeks ago, I went into Chase’s class for tutoring.

I’d emailed Chase’s teacher one evening and said, “Chase keeps telling me that this stuff you’re sending home is math – but I’m not sure I believe him. Help, please.” She emailed right back and said, “No problem! I can tutor Chase after school anytime.” And I said, “No, not him. Me. He gets it. Help me.” And that’s how I ended up standing at a chalkboard in an empty fifth grade classroom staring at rows of shapes that Chase’s teacher kept referring to as “numbers.”

I stood a little shakily at the chalkboard while Chase’s teacher sat behind me, perched on her desk, using a soothing voice to try to help me understand the “new way we teach long division.”  Luckily for me, I didn’t have to unlearn much because I never really understood the “old way we taught long division.” It took me a solid hour to complete one problem, but l could tell that Chase’s teacher liked me anyway. She used to work with NASA, so obviously we have a whole lot in common.

Afterwards, we sat for a few minutes and talked about teaching children and what a sacred trust and responsibility it is. We agreed that subjects like math and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom. We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger  community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all.

And then she told me this.

Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot –  and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea – I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.

Ever since Columbine, she said.  Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine.

Good Lord.

This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.

And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11 year old hands  – is SAVING LIVES. I am convinced of it. She is saving lives.

And what this mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH.

All is love- even math.  Amazing.

Chase’s teacher retires this year –  after decades of saving lives. What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day-  and altering the trajectory of our world.

TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one  is watching-  it’s our best hope.

Teachers- you’ve got a million parents behind you whispering together: “We don’t care about the damn standardized tests. We only care that you teach our children to be Brave and Kind. And we thank you. We thank you for saving lives.”

Love – All of Us

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  1,852 Responses to “Share This With All the Schools, Please”

  1. How do you take this information and make a seating chart out of it? Or is it not a seating chart? I love this idea and think this will work wonders in my 1st grade class.

  2. Great idea for an elementary classroom. But to adapt for use in my high school classroom I’d make some changes, as I have 150+ students usually (this year 162 last I checked). That’s a lot of slips of paper to to sort through each Friday, so maybe I’d rotate and do 1 class/week. Also, the questions would have to be different–I can’t see older students taking it seriously if I asked them to choose someone for ‘exceptional classroom citizen’, and I frankly don’t want them sitting next to their friends–that’s what I use a seating chart to prevent. But I DO like the idea of gathering info from questions in this way, whatever the questions might actually be.

  3. I am studying Secondary Education at a University and I am always looking to learn new and innovative techniques to implement into my future classroom! This is definitely something I could see myself using. It is a really unique method to gauge the dynamics in the classroom from the students’ perspective. Also, I think it is an incredible effort made by this teacher to take action in impacting the lives of these students. This teacher helped me recognize and remember that my role as a teacher is not only teaching my content, but developing the next generations.

  4. So right. This is why I make my students take out the ear buds and cut off the Satanic digital feed. It disconnects them from the school community, withdraws them from the team they need and that needs them.

  5. Thank you for this! So glad I’m not the only one beating that drum. Teaching is so much more than academics and I truly believe we must teach the “whole” child, not just academic skills. Thank you again.

  6. Do you have an organizer or a way to keep track of this easily? Especially who is being dropped by who? Any extra advice would be appreciated! I love this!

    • I was thinking the same thing… I think I’ll create a Google Form that students can complete each week… this will put all the data into a spreadsheet for me.

  7. Bravoooo to this thoughtful and caring teacher!!!!! This is wonderful strategy ti stop bullying and violence in schools!!!!!!!

  8. I wish those million parents whispering behind me would raise their voices to the rooftop and shout, “We don’t care about standardized tests!” Maybe then they would be heard.

  9. I applaud this teacher’s methods. One of the the underlying problems is that schools are too big!!!! Classes are too big. Kids get lost. Trust me, I know. Some parents have wisely moved to smaller districts where their kids can get involved in a number of activities that they may not have been able to at a large school. They can be in a play, play football and basketball, and/or be a cheerleader. I know that is not always feasible, but I truly believe it is a major factor.

  10. I love this idea a lot and could see my self using it! What I’m curious about is what she does with the information…. Sure she sees patterns and can maybe spot the children who are slipping through the cracks, but how does she use this information to make her classroom a better place?

    • I am wondering the same thing as what do you do with the patterns and information learned? I would love to share this information with teachers at my school but really need to give suggestions of how to make connections once the ones who need them are discovered.

  11. An interesting variation on this can be used by middle or high school teams.who work with a common set of students. About a month or so into the year, lay out index cards with all the kids names on them. Ask each teacher to pick up cards for any kids they feel they have already started to develop a connection with. Once everyone has collected those cards, look closely at who is left. These are the “invisible kids” who are not getting noticed. As a team, split that group up so that each teacher has a few they will make a special effort to connect with and encourage.

  12. This is a good time to about what is sociallying appropriate to share, vs the things that we don’t share outside of our homes. I am one to notice often that people, especially adults today, are socially ignorant, if not socially retarded, and lack these important skills! My mother always taught us that: “IF YOU DON’T WANT THE WHOLE WORLD TO KNOW IT — KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.” Boy, didn’t that come to pass in this electronic age!

  13. I’m a Kindergarten teacher and I noticed that the cliques begin in the cafeteria and then flow into recess. I began implementing Wacky Wednesdays in the cafeteria. I randomnly place name cards at spots on our two tables to indicate where everyone should sit that day. Each child is given a question to ask the classmate next to them. Then, they need to share the answer with me or the class later in the day. It gets them talking to each other and discovering that they may have similar interests. A child’s social and emotional life is so much easier in Kindergarten than in later years, but it’s where compassion and acceptance of others become the foundation.

  14. While the intentions are admirable, It’s a bit unethical though; if Facebook collected information and secretly used it for purposes other than what they stated, no matter their intent, we’d be up in arms, why is it ok to misrepresent to kids? Bad lesson.

    • Hello?! Facebook DOES do that! Facebook did a social experiment on millions of its users to determine whether if one saw predominantly negative or positive posts in their feed it would determine their mood and emotions. They did this by manipulating what millions of people saw posted in their news feed every day, and measured it by the emotional tone of the subjects personal posts. Some people they blocked positive posts from appearing, and others negative posts from appearing.That is some sick stuff! Yet here we all are, still using it all fine and dandy! This woman is doing nothing wrong, and nothing that will harm anyone. Facebook could have prompted and been ultimately responsible for subjects committing suicide due to the social media monster’s experimentally induced depression. One of these is not quite like the other…

      • Yes I know they did it, that’s my point… Generally people saw face books experiments distasteful… Is misrepresenting what you are doing ok if it’s for what you believe is an ok end goal? It’s just a bit of a slippery slope… what if your work asked you who you want to sit next too, then fired all the ppl no one liked to increase efficiency?

        • That comparison is not valid. This teacher has no intention of using the information she collects in any negative manner. People like you fight a false battle against non existent issues and use misleading comments like the one above to fuel your cause.

        • The fact that anyone would find a problem with a teacher trying to stop Columbine from happening again is ridiculous. Maybe you, Mark, were that bully in school everyone was scared of? Why would you have a problem with this at all? The teacher is only trying to keep kids from feeling alone and/or bullied. How often in school did you see someone sitting by themselves and feeling like an outcast to everyone else? The teacher is trying to prevent that. Just because a kid writes someone’s name down, doesn’t mean that kid gets in trouble. People are entitled to their opinions. Unfortunately in your case, the joke “what do opinions and assholes have in common?” Everyone has one, even those we wish could be silenced, like you.

          • Whoa, Emily. That seemed rather rash and like a bully. Mark noted that the intention was admirable. He just put the question out there as to whether it was ethical. Frankly, I was a bit shocked at first that she asked certain questions, only to use them to infer other things. I know this won’t be popular, but I am of the old fashioned idea that school would be a great place for kids to learn the three R’s! I also believe there are times when the teacher may be the only trusted adult in a student’s life, so I see that teachers have to be diligent in watching over their flock. How they do that might depend upon the age of the children and the struggles in that particular school. Either way, we as adults don’t need to go after each other and show kids what NOT to do.

    • “Mark”, Way to take a great initiative by a teacher to help children learn how to be a better friend and squash it. It is because of people like you that make it sometimes impossible to “teach” in the classroom. If you are going to complain and offer no other option or strategy then just don’t say anything at all. Hats off to all those in the education field that do not let this negativity impact your teaching. Keep up the great work!!!!!

    • Another example of someone who probably doesn’t teach trying to tell teachers how to do their job.

  15. Find out who bully is…the one who gets nominated every week 4 exceptional classroom citizen but no fucker wants to sit with next week….ones who get little notices every week do alright….the four who always want to sit next each every week but never get requested noticed they the bullets targets they r us further Eric n Dylan Columbine killers just (snap system overload)….then there’s one’s like me never noticed not every by bullies ???we smart clever we study watch learn,we do not Forgive## We do not Forget ##We are LegioN…¿¿¿¿¿

  16. A “bad” teacher can scar a child for life, something we dealt with when our son was in a GATE class in the first grade. This teacher is exceptional and going to lengths untried to know her students and respond to issues ignored for literally centuries. I applaud her effort.

  17. I’m not sure how exactly this finds out who is a bully or who is being bullied. If you don’t get nominated for being “an exceptional class room citizen” it doesn’t mean you are being bullied or a bully, it just means, in the eyes of your classmates, you aren’t an exceptional classroom citizen. In fact, you could be an exceptional classroom citizen and be nominated every single week and still be bullied. Also, aren’t you going to want to pick to sit beside your best friends every week? If you are not getting picked to be sat next to every single week in a classroom poll, isn’t that going to be a blow to your self-esteem as well as singling you out to be bullied ? I think Chase’s teacher would be better off gauging the dynamic in the classroom/playground rather than running potentially damaging popularity contests.

    • Paul, I think you have missed the whole point of this message, please go back and read it again.

      • Whoa… I disagree. I was totally wondering the same things Paul has stated. Yes, waiting for people to scream at me now, too, because we are actually THINKING. No one in their right mind (that part is important) would question the heart behind this original teacher’s actions. I was just wondering how she was going to come to her conclusions based on her questions. I agree with Paul TOTALLY…. we find out a WHOLE LOT by watching the students at recess. I am frankly shocked that people are attacking others who just might question the method of this experiment. I do want to note I LOVE the heart this teacher showed by wanting to find a way to positively impact her class. Kudos.

    • Dear Paul, it is interesting how some people can project negatively (show,their own negative attitudes by how they judge others) no matter how brilliant an action is. You presume this is her only way of assessing and project a destructive outcome because someone has a brilliant way of helping kids adjust. There is an old saying, “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it.” Your shallow assessment would be best out of the way. It is the equivalent of bullying. Was that your way in school?♡

  18. NICE very nice!

    What is the name of this incredible teacher????

  19. This teacher had a good ideal in helping her students now and in the future. Sure she carried her plan through for the best of each and every student. To bad she is retiring. Maybe sharing this will encourage other teachers to do it also. The world would be a better place.

    • I am studying Primary Education at University, and this is definitely something I can see myself using. I plan to show this to anyone I can in my classes and try to get as many future educators as possible to do something like this when they are in the workforce.

  20. I Absolutely love this idea. By reading some of the responses i like them would like to know how this is achieved.

  21. I loved reading about this teacher’s method for targeting bullying. I am a teacher myself and love any new technique for making kids feel noticed and loved. Can you share with us HOW she helps the kids that she notices aren’t connecting? What types of things does she do?

    • I also loved reading about this teacher and her approach to identifying lonely or bullied children. I have a special fondness for elementary teachers mostly because my father was a beloved 5th grade teacher. I have the same questions raised by Becky and would very much like to know the answers.

    • I cannot say for sure, but I would think that she keeps a record of these responses, and looks for the pattern. The bullying targets would show up as those who are rarely picked as someone to sit beside by those outside of their group of friends, since others do not want to become targets themselves. Anyone who rarely shows up on those submissions would be getting ostracised by the other students or simply do not know how to interact with them properly. Those are the students who would need help. I am not sure how she would identify the bullies though

  22. I really like this idea. In fact I love it. However, I would like to know how the teacher dealt with the information she got from the results of the questions? Did she mix the groups up? Did she talk to the isolated kids? How can one use this data to help the struggling child?

  23. I loved this story. Wish She had been around when I was at school. So nice to hear/read about such a caring teacher. It”s a shame she hasn’t passed her skills on to other teachers .

  24. Truly and utterly a brilliant teacher with a heart as warm as gold. We should all be so lucky to have a teacher like her for our children.

  25. That’s great, but where is the maths and formula behind it so that other teachers can replicate it?

  26. this sociometric exercise was used frequently at Discovery School in Surrey BC in the 1990s. The results always held surprises and were an interesting way to make new partners.

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