True Colors

The final days of the 2014-2015 school year are approaching, signifying the end of a two year stint with my now soon to be middle schoolers.  These final weeks of the school year are usually tough with the curriculum already being covered, the kids getting squirrelly, and the days too numbered to start any longer activities.  While most people, including myself, struggle with what to do with these waning hours, I have often found that the last minute activities I’ve come up with oftentimes are the most meaningful.  That theory has held true again this year, as I looked to hit home the #inspirechange mantra we’ve adopted this year to try to put the finishing touches of my mark on the character of my twenty three kids.

As I basked in the afterglow of a successful flashmob, I stumbled upon a video of a Cindi Lauper performance in 1986 of a tune entitled True Colors on YouTube.   Being the sappy sentimental type at the end of the school year, the lyrics immediately engaged me and I immediately thought of my students.   What better way to #inspirechange than to center an activity around this song! The wheels began to turn.

I started to think about what I wanted my kids to get out of this song.  After batting around a few ideas, I figured that it would be a great way to send my students off to the uncertain and often cruel world known as Middle School knowing that they are special in their own way, and that they should not be afraid to show who they are.   I printed the lyrics and headed to school.

Upon my arrival to school, I thought that it would be a bit more powerful to show the video of Cindi singing the song in 1986, complete with crimped yellow hair, rainbow eyelashes and makeup, and unique clothes that did not match.  I also found a recent, with the same song, with Cindi sporting more conservative clothing along with her spiky white hair.  I wondered what my kids would think of these videos?

I summoned the students to the carpet area and instead of speaking, I turned off the lights, and played the 1986 version of True Colors.  After about a minute, I hit the pause button and asked what they thought.

“Look at that weird hair, OMG”

“Her voice is too weird!”

“Is she for real? Her makeup is crazy.”

“I’ve never heard of her before. I wonder why (sarcastic voice).”

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in what I heard.  After all, we have been hitting the character ed. pretty hard and I thought I left a pretty empathetic and compassionate mark on these kids over the span of two years through our studies of various literature.  I actually felt myself get a little defensive and a bit mad as the comments became a bit more negative and sarcastic.  Did they not hear the words? Did they not feel their power? Then I remembered.  They are kids.  This isn’t over.

I turned the lights back on and handed out the lyrics, again not saying anything or hinting that it was the song they had just listened to.  Before I even instructed them to follow a close read procedure to determine the theme or life lesson of the text before them, I saw all I needed to see. I saw cheeks turning red, eyes looking down, and sheepish smiles on their faces.  I asked them to turn and meet with their triad groups and talk about the text, which by now, most realized it was the song they just heard.

Instead of calling for the students attention to have a closing discussion, I interrupted the conversations with the recent video of Cindi Lauper singing true colors with just a few musicians by her side.  What I saw and heard happen next was way more than I had expected.  Instead of the giggling and sarcastic comments, you could hear a pin drop in the room.  All eyes were on the screen, some getting a bit glassy with emotion, and some singing the words in the most beautiful way that I cannot adequately describe.  I asked what they thought now after reading and watching the second performance:

“I think this is about standing up for yourself.”

“She’s trying to help out a friend who doesn’t see the person they really are.”

“This song reminds me of that one song we flashmob to, “Everybody’s Got Their Something.”

“Her voice stands out, maybe that’s why she’s lasted this long.”

“Could this be that she wrote this song to help herself out? Look at her, she’s still performing this song after all these years.”

Wait, WHAT????? Did that last comment come out of the mouth of a ten year old boy?

I was honestly blown away by this activity.  The range of emotions from the beginning to the end of this session were as far away from each other as they could have possibly been.  I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  This class has a heart of gold and I knew that coming into this day.

Up next is an extension activity to this song, which has yet to be completed.  When one of my students mentioned the song, Everybody’s Got Their Something by Nikka Costa, the wheels began to turn again.  A 5th grade colleague, Deb, from another district building showed me an activity she does with her students.  She creates an online Kahoot quiz where she gives clues about something special about each one of her students.  Students login top their 1:1 device and as each question is revealed, they choose from the four choices of student names for their answers.  From there, students are given a matrix where they write something special about each of their classmates, whether it was a memory of how helpful they were, a talent they have, or something nice to compliment them.  No “you’re funny” would be accepted unless it was specific. After that, students would cut up the matrix and deliver little squares to each student, who would then compile a list of compliments on a google doc to add graphics, illustrate, print, and laminate to serve as a reminder of their impact on their classmates. I can’t think of a better extension and will blog about what happens next!

After saying how difficult these end days are, I must say I have to take it back.  I now see how powerful these “random” activities really are and how important and inspirational they really are, as they help expose the true colors in all of us.


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