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Monday, March 7,2011

Ask Me

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller  

Jaunita Calderone teaches third grade in a suburban elementary school in the Southwest. She shared the following story with us at a recent workshop we conducted.

For the past three years, Jaunita, in an effort to connect with her students and share her humanness, has used a strategy she devised and termed, Ask Me. Ask Me was implemented the last ten minutes of every day after the room was cleaned up and before the buses arrived. It was time set aside for students to interview her, press conference–style. Students could ask her any question. If she chose not to answer a question, she told them why.

Students’ questions were basic at first.

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

How old are you? Do you have any pets? As the trust level grew between the teacher and her students, so did the depth of the questions.

Did you always want to be a teacher?

Do you tell other people about us sometimes?

Do you like being you? Are you afraid of anything? The exercise helped Jaunita and her students become genuine with one another. It helped dissolve the artificial walls that sometimes exist between teacher and students and fostered mutual respect. Both the children and the teacher took Ask Me seriously and looked forward to it.

One day an eight-year-old girl asked, “Mrs. Calderone, do you love us boys and girls?” The teacher never hesitated. “Of course I do,” she replied. “I love you all like crazy. You’re in my heart when you’re in class. My heart is filled with love for you when I’m at home. And my heart looks forward to coming to school and seeing you each school day. My heart is bursting with love for all of you!” The young girl thought a moment and then asked, “How come your heart doesn’t tell your face?” Jaunita told us she was stunned by that innocent question. She didn’t know what to make of it. She muttered some response that didn’t really answer the girl’s question and was relieved when the bell rang, signaling time to line up for dismissal.

Later that night, with the listening skill of her husband and his gentle confrontation, Jaunita got the feedback she needed to help her understand the message underneath the puzzling question. The helpful bit of data he offered her was simple: she didn’t smile much. She certainly didn’t smile as much as she thought she did. As her husband described it, she would be good at poker because she had a face that didn’t reveal much emotion. He called it poker-faced. Good for playing poker, but not always helpful when trying to communicate warmth to third-graders.

Filled with new information and determination, Jaunita set out to “have her heart tell her face” that she loved teaching and she loved children. She smiled consciously twenty times a day and marked them in her plan book. Her smiles were broad and left no doubt about what was in her heart. Jaunita liked the way she felt when she chose to smile with purpose and conviction. And she loved the smiles she got in return.

Jaunita’s smiles come more frequently and unconsciously now. She has even stopped recording them in her plan book. What once was a purposeful decision to smile has turned into a natural occurrence. Because of Ask Me, the trust that developed over time, and a little girl’s question, Jaunita Calderone is all smiles.

 

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Also from Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller:

 
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