Author poses ‘One Question’ for Iron County District schools

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

CEDAR CITY–More than 800 educators and staff of the Iron County School District attended the Institute’s opening kick-off event for the 2018-2019 school year to celebrate past progress and to affirm their commitment to “Every Child… Every Day:  Whatever it Takes” theme and district-wide effort.

According to learning coordinator Cory Henwood, the Institute for Iron County Schools morning session began with music by Canyon View High Orchestra, a prelude address by school board member Michelle Lambert and service award announcements for recognized ‘teams of the year.’

The event featured TED Talk guest speaker was Kyle Schwartz, who was named ‘Distinguished Teacher’ by Denver Public Schools for her achievements in high academic growth and strong instructional practice.  The opening schedule included a ‘year in review’ slide show, with a Cool2Code Exposition and display.

Schwartz was invited to share her thoughts, excerpts from her book and the candid ‘fill-in-the-blank’ responses her students shared in “I wish my teacher knew…” that inspired a social media movement and widespread national coverage by The Today Show, Good Morning America and the #IWishMyTeacherKnew message.

Her book focuses on the simple, but powerful lesson that sparked international conversation about the plight of youngsters and the realties they face with family, health, emotional and social issues:  Schwartz touched on those issues and how schools can address and support students inside the classroom.

“I love this theme,” Lambert said. “It says so much about what we as a community are trying to do for our children. It says we recognize that every child is a complex individual with a unique background, set of interests, and aptitudes. It says we believe that every child deserves our full effort every single day, which means we believe that every child can learn. And it says that we, as teachers, staff, administrators and board members, are dedicated to making that happen.”

In prepared remarks, Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney echoed the District Institute’s theme, “Every Child…Every Day:  Whatever it Takes,” and the importance of reinforcing positive behaviors, with trauma-informed, social and emotional support for young people.

Schwartz is known for her work with education-focused groups such as City Year, the Denver Teacher Residency, American Achieves and Teach Strong. She has also led professional development talks at national, regional and local conferences.

Her examples of student comments in ‘I wish my teacher knew…’ included poignant handwritten scribbles about life…an ill parent, a death in the family, life in a homeless shelter, not having a friend to play with; or pencils to do homework, among others.  

“While some of those answers were humorous,” said Schwartz of the classroom exercise designed to better understand her own students, “Others were profoundly moving and enlightening.”

It is the story of notes shared by students that has led Schwartz to share strategies and a practical guide to adapt the ‘I wish my teacher knew’ exercise to every classroom or to enhance an educator’s teaching style.  During the event, she emphasized practical ways to build relationships through empathy, understanding and shared experience.

“In this data-obsessed world it takes courage to value what can’t be measured,” said Schwarz, “You are in a courageous district, which knows that learning always takes place within a relationship.”

Schwartz pointed to family data that shows a relatively high percentage of reduced lunches for students who live below poverty standards; that one out of 20 children, (ages 15 and younger) suffer from the loss of one or two parents; and one in 28 students have a parent in jail or prison.  

“I wish my teacher knew… isn’t rocket science, said Schwartz of a bulletin board full of notes from students, “It is about timing, how to be an example, and share-out.”

In conclusion, Schwartz stressed the need for creative ‘belonging’ strategies, that will engage a student and create space for open and meaningful communication. “We know there are a lot of kids ‘who fly under the radar’ so we need to do more in the way of the ‘shared experiences,’ responding to their (individual) needs and to celebrate who they are.”

Caption:  Kyle Schwartz, Denver Pubic Schools, author and guest speaker at the Opening Institute for Iron County School District, who provided the district audience with excerpts from her book, “I wish my teacher knew…” How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids.”  The book and outline will be the focus of Iron County School District educators this year.

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