I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but I know it was during morning meeting. This year, we’ve often talked about choosing the lens through which we see the world. For example, right now our class focus, inspired by Irene Latham and Charles Water’s Dictionary for a Better World, is “kindness.” So, we’re trying to keep a keen eye out for acts of kindness and put them on our “Catch ’em Being Kind” bulletin board. We’ve talked about how looking for kindness helps us see it in our daily lives, which makes us feel good and also inspires us to be more kind. Somehow during the twists and turns of our discussion, I said something about “silver linings.”
They looked at me blankly.
“Have you ever heard that expression?” I asked. I fully anticipated a hand or two to shoot up, but none did, and heads shook from side to side.
“Oh,” I said, “well, have you ever seen a big dark cloud that blocks the sun, but the sun behind it lights up its edges so they sort of shimmer or glow?”
They nodded and I continued.
“Well, that’s called a silver lining. So sometimes when people are in the midst of hard times or unpleasant things, like a dark cloud, they notice there are some positive things happening, too. They call those silver linings. It’s sort of a metaphor for being optimistic–seeing the good things in the midst of the bad.”
This led into a conversation about the “up-sides” or silver linings of Covid. Spontaneously, I asked them to share any silver linings they’d had in their experience with Covid. Several students raised their hands immediately.
“I’ve learned to bake,” a student said. “I used to need a lot of help, but now I can bake things by myself.”
“We’ve gone hiking a lot more,” another student volunteered.
B. raised her hand. “I’ve been reading so much,” she said. ” I’ve had more time at home, so I just read and read and read.” Several other kids made our silent class “agree” signal.
Then, another student raised his hand.
“I learned to read during the pandemic,” he announced proudly.
What a powerful statement that is.
“I learned to read during the pandemic.”
It just grabs you, doesn’t it? My heart swelled and the comment took me back to a staff meeting late last summer, probably before school even started. Our Principal, in a wry voice, said, “Well, welcome to the job you never applied for and didn’t want, but now you’ve got it. Congratulations!” Then he went on, in all seriousness, to talk about the work ahead. At one point he said, “When people ask you what you’re doing, just say ‘I’m teaching during a pandemic.'”
I didn’t play a part in that student learning to read, as his academic instruction doesn’t occur in our classroom. But I’m here, every day, doing my best to teach during a pandemic–trying to help kids navigate these crazy times, find joy in their worlds, and grow as learners and people. It’s tough work and sometimes it threatens to pull me under. But then I think of those silver linings. Of that student proclaiming, “I learned to read during a pandemic. Of another student who during a writing reflection wrote, “I used to be the kind of writer who didn’t like writing, but now I’m really interested in doing writing.”
Just like kindness, if you keep your eye out for the silver linings, you’ll find them.
And though I need to be reminded of this once in a while, many of them are happening in my fourth grade classroom every day.