Thursday, October 22, 2020

Why I Share Books Like The Belonging Tree

Some books immediately flood you with memories...good and bad. This was one of them. I know it will be a must-read every year in my classroom.

I'm going to highlight the book now but after the last pic, I'll tell you the background as to why this type of book is ALWAYS front and center in my classroom and should be in yours too.

The Belongng Tree is written by the talented Maryann Cocca-Leffler and illustrated by Kristine A. Lombardi. A perfect pairing and a flawless book IMO.

The illustrations are really cute.  Kids are going to love them.

I love Zeke playing with the babies here. She loves all her new friends no matter the species.

I'll come back to "There goes the neighborhood" below...

A great converstaion would hopefully follow the reading of this book on inclusion, appreciating differences/diversity, and acceptance.

When I read The Belonging Tree, I immediately thought of a former student I had many, many years ago.

He arrived from a war-torn country months prior to finish off the kindergarten year and lived with relatives. We were told of all he went through and it was devastating. What he saw in his every day short life so far was traumatizing. 

When he started in my class in September, he just starting speaking a little English.  Can you imagine all the obstacles this child had to overcome?  He was a brave child and his having to be brave broke my heart.

At the same time, this very wealthy town that I was teaching in was getting its first low-income housing. Parents were furious. Beyond. And very vocal about their thoughts.

The topic consumed the town as the housing filled up.

I kept hearing, "There goes the neighborhood.  Not in my town," etc. everywhere I went.  

(Hence the trigger from above book.)

So on Meet the Teacher day, a few parents, upon seeing this child's nametag, were aggressive toward that sweet child's mere existence. 

As I stood a few feet away talking to a child, I could hear a conversation that horrified me.

A parent pointed to this child's nametag and said to a group of people around him, "He isn't the "standard" accepted in this town."  Then one remarked how she saw him having a meltdown at every baseball game he played in that summer. They laughed and rolled their eyes.

I shut that shit down. Fast. 

I've always been outspoken and I'm not easily intimidated.  Parents were a bit surprised that as a young teacher, I spoke up to advocate for this child and shut them down so fast.

I stood on a chair, and gave them a speech that clearly let them know that I would not tolerate gossiping of any kind. 
I let them know that my - our- classroom community was always and would always continue to be a safe haven for ALL kids and families.  "I can promise you this: If a parent in this class or any class approaches me and tries to gossip about your child, I won't allow it. We all know that 5 and 6 year olds are learning from their mistakes each and every day. That's what children do. Your child is safe in here."

Parents clapped. The two that made those comments looked uncomfortable. They later apologized privately.

I've been doing this at EVERY Meet the Teacher and reinforcing the message at BTSN since.

It's too important not to.

NOTE: I also gave examples of gossip and what is a true concern when another child is affecting your child's safety/well-being.  

I've mentored a lot of teachers and have encouraged them to shut down the gossip the SECOND you hear/are approached with it. 

Because of this student (who I adored!), I still continuously seek out books about inclusiveness and books that convey empathy in an easy to understand way.  

Books such as these not only help me build a strong classroom community, they make it thrive.

Or their parents!

Which is why I love to include retellings for homework: For homework tonight, retell The Belonging Tree to your family.

If you read this far, thank you! 

If you want free materials on Bucket Filling and see how this powerful activity can help build and strengthen your classroom community, check this out and sign up for me free newsletter.  

Have a great day!

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