Saturday, August 9, 2014

NTPRS: Personalization with the expert--Karen Rowan (Part One)

First of all, let me say that I left this for last because, for me, it was the subject that I was the least comfortable with and felt that it was the most varied approach in the conference.  I have always felt wary of personalization. I am not a touchy-feely person. I feel that the students' personal lives are really none of my business. I don't feel that I have the right to ask them about boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. I'm not a person who remembers things easily, either. I will not have the name of a particular student's favorite football team or movie star on the tip of my tongue. And this might be TPRS suicide, but I like it that way. 

Now don't get me wrong. I like my students. My classes are in my care, and I treat them well. I treat them with respect. I just don't like having lots of trivia clogging up my brain. I need that brain space for other things, like remembering where I put my keys, keeping my lesson plan in the top of my mind, and not forgetting to put in those all-important structures.  I don't have the brain space to load with my students' curricula vitae. 

Naturally, this makes me question my ability as a TPRS teacher. If I can't get up close and personal with my students, then how can I ever deliver up close and personal personalization? I entered Karen's class thinking that I would get some easy answers.

I should have known better. Karen is not an easy answer person. Her personalization class shows that. It starts off by warning you that you are not going to understand everything (she blames that on herself--she knows her flaws and advises us to know them, too).  It continues with the understanding that this is not going to be a one-session class. In order to get everything she had to give to us, we would need to come to all three sessions.

I'll be honest. I almost left. I didn't know if I really wanted to devote three sessions (1 1/2 hour long sessions, mind you) to a subject that made me uncomfortable. I decided to give the first session a try and then make up my mind about the others.

Well, Karen had me from the first five minutes.  She talked about the classroom in a way that had me immediately back and remembering. She spoke of teaching from the heart--remembering that children respond in different ways--they have different heart languages.  Some respond to touch, others to words of affirmation, others to quality time, others to gifts, and still others to acts of service.  It made me remember teachers I have known. I remembered Mrs. Lee who cared about me enough to talk to me. She knew I was hurting and alone, and she made time to show me she cared.  I also remembered Mrs. She-who-must-not-be-named, who responded to a question, "What does the VIP on your coffee cup mean?" with a scolding for looking at things on her desk. To add to my confusion and hurt, there had been another teacher in the room with her. To top it all off, the other teacher asked the same thing I did, and she responded laughingly and with love. I never talked to that teacher again.

After explaining to us why it's important to know our students and learn their heart language (a lesson she picked up from Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages of Children), Karen helped us learn how to personalize.  She started with a worksheet--a student inventory--that she has the children fill out on the first day of class.  This worksheet can be found at the following website: .  I had heard that before, but I didn't know what to do with it once I'd had the students make it. This was resolved when Karen said that she had the inventory on the front table in file folders.  Perfect!

The workshop was very interactive. We all got up and moved around, we asked each other questions, and we learned how to use personalization to best advantage.  It's been a few weeks since the workshops, so I can't remember exactly what was learned when, but that's not really important, is it?  Suffice it to say that on that first day, I was personalizing like crazy, expending a lot of energy, and feeling pretty okay about myself. Then after the session Karen came up to me and told me that she watched me and was impressed, but she wanted me to learn how to "give away" the teaching so that I wouldn't use up so much energy and the kids could shine (I'm not sure those are the words. Like I said, it's been a while).  I was shocked. I've always been exhausted at the end of every day. Could it even be possible to allow the students to use the energy while I just stood back and let them?

Next time:  Personalization without pain.

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