What Is Your Small Happiness?

img_7288sWelcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature PJ Buchholz, a third grade teacher at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School.

At Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we feel fortunate to work closely with wonderful and wise Kalamazoo Public School teachers like Ms. Buchholz. Ms. Buchholz is also featured in the CIS Annual Report and shares some of the benefits she sees by having CIS in her school. That report will be out soon, so be on the look out for it.

Alright, Ms. Buchholz: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been hosting international students for a while. It’s very interesting. I’ve learned that we’re all so different in our cultures but we’re all so the same in our hearts.

I also learned about small happiness. One of the girls I’m hosting had to write a speech about how to be the best at something. She pondered this for quite a while and then wrote about “How to be the best at being happy.” She practiced her speech with me and said, “Happiness is not one big happy day but many small happinesses, like a compliment and a joke, coffee and dark chocolate.” She ended her speech by asking, “What is your small happiness?” Just wonderful.

In today’s environment of high stakes testing, a highly political culture, and working with students/families who struggle with getting their basic needs met, it is more important than ever to find our small happiness and help others  to find theirs. I’ve even started regularly asking my students, “What is your small happiness?”

Speaking of questions, according to Josef Albers, “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” What other questions do you love to ask your students?

What are you good at? What do you love? What do you love to do? What do you think about when you play? Who do you play with? What do you like to play? How did you organize that? What are you going to do next about that? If you could ask one person, who would you ask?

Favorite word?

I have a series of favorite words right now: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

ESPN’s series, The Undefeated, recently featured President Barack Obama. In this town hall format, he said we need to ask ourselves these three questions every day: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

What are you currently reading?

I am Malala. It’s a memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. I’m also reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I’m really into elder care and raising children. I see similarities between them.

How so?

My parents are getting up there. I see how they can become nervous and scared about things. It’s important to honor their ambiguity and their uncertainty about things. You have to do that with children, too.

What is one of your favorite things about being a teacher?

One of my favorite things is seeing how caring children are for other children. It’s why they like Harry Potter, right? It’s the children against the adults working together to figure things out. When you can get them to include the adult, when you can be part of their alliance too, be in it together, that’s really special. I just love seeing the inner circle of children working and playing and seeing the alliances they have for each other.

What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?

Knowing you can’t do everything, that it’s not possible to take care of every need and be efficient and be political and address every need in the classroom setting. Sometimes, you’re so busy dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s that you have to just have to sit on the rug. You need to sit down and do great work with kids.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

Kevin Campbell. He was my principal when I team taught sixth grade out at Spring Valley [Center for Exploration] with Dawn Kahler. Dawn has also been one of those caring adults for me, a mentor…Dawn is a science teacher now at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

We really explored and learned and had a lot of educational opportunities. We took advantage of them together, on behalf of students. Kevin recognized our skills, strength, and passion and always came knocking on that side of us, never the deficit side.

I want to be a strengths teacher and not a deficit teacher. I want to teach to students’ strengths and they both helped me teach to my strengths. My time with them made me want to continue to grow in this area and network, and be with other people who are like that. Coming at students from a strength-based approach, you don’t worry so much about crossing the I’s and T’s.

Also, another caring adult and mentor was Mary Hoyle. I worked with her throughout my 24 years in the Kalamazoo Public Schools—first at Woodward, Spring Valley, and later Milwood Magnet. I miss her. Mary taught me to be a fierce advocate…she was a good friend.

We miss Mary, too. Thank you, Ms. Buchholz.

And a big thank you to all you teachers out there who show up every day for our 12,000+ kids.

img_7308s