“You can’t come to this class, because you know how to read, and I don’t. You can only come if you don’t know how to read.”
“We’re here because we can’t read.”
“I have to come to this class because I suck at reading.”
These are actual things students have said about my reading intervention class. I love teaching reading intervention, but most importantly, I love the kids I teach. The group of students I have is very upfront. They have told me some of or at least a variation of the phrases from the beginning. They know that they are struggling in the area of reading and spelling. This is true, otherwise, I wouldn’t have a job, but it’s disheartening to know that students feel the stigma of being in an intervention class.
When I became a reading interventionist, I wanted to change this. I wanted to remove the stigma surrounding intervention. I wanted my students to love my classroom. I wanted them to be eager to get into my room and work with excitement. I didn’t want the stigma to follow them into my room.
Or should I say my Pirate Ship!
I don’t teach in a classroom. I teach in a pirate ship. Obviously, it’s an actual classroom, but it goes beyond that. It’s a branded classroom. When you hear the word branded, think about the idea of marketing. Marketing a brand isn’t just displaying the brand name and logo. It’s about all the things associated with that brand, including how the brand makes one feel.
Take the brand Nike for an example. When you hear the name Nike or see the logo, a lot comes to mind: different sports, athletes, exercise, strength, cardio, fun, flashy, expensive…we could go on, but the point is that a brand should go just beyond the logo. My Nike running app makes me feel connected and part of a larger community of runners. Running in Nike shoes and clothing makes me feel comfortable and confident that my equipment will do the job.
My brand just happens to be pirates. Pirate decorations, marigold flowers (The Marigold is the name of this ship), and even a pirate boat is in the classroom as a flexible seating option. Pirate language is used instead of normal classroom language. “X marks the spot” means to line up. “Batten down the hatches” means to gather and/or put away your materials for the day. We ring a bell to signal that we are sailing back to our classrooms. I don’t give prizes. I give out pirate treasure.
The kids have bought in. Remember, that a brand should also make you feel some type of emotion. Kids are excited to come to pirate class. They want to sit in the pirate boat, beat the timer when they are battening down the hatches. They always say hi to the pirate ghost before entering the room. They are eager to pull some pirate treasure.
They feel a sense of community. That first phrase at the beginning of this post is something one of my pirates told a fellow student. I realized that this space was sacred to her. It was hers and only belonged to other pirates who “don’t know how to read.”
I have noticed that the branding of the classroom has helped to destigmatize the idea of being in an intervention class. That stigma of “I’m only here because I can’t______” is squashed when kids are actually eager and excited to get to class. When students are feeling a sense of belonging, that they are part of the pirate crew, I see more smiles and more excitement. I see less frowns and apathy. I hear less groans and complaints when I tell the pirates in the room that it’s time to set sail. Some kids even ask if they can be first in line to walk into the ship.
Intervention and other pull-out classes (speech, Special Ed., OT/PT, etc.) have often labeled kids as unintelligent, lazy, too far behind, and more negative labels. My goal was to remove a label and just get kids to start enjoying my classroom. Branding did all this and more. It made my classroom safe. It has encouraged my students to try hard things, knowing that they have pirates in the room cheering them on.
Branding my classroom has done so much to remove barriers and stigmas surrounding intervention classes. It’s made my classroom safe, and it has become a place that students love. By creating a community, my pirates set sail daily, eager to learn new spelling rules and try reading decodable texts that at one time looked so daunting. It’s helped me, but ultimately it has helped the students.
If this is something that would benefit you and your students, reach out to me. I would be more than willing and happy to collaborate with you to help build your own branded classroom.
Elijah Carbajal is the author of A Place They Love: Creating a Healthy School Culture and Positively Impacting Students, through EduMatch Publishing. The audience, teachers primarily, are taken through Elijah’s journey and evolution as an educator. The reader gets to learn from Elijah and other guest authors about what can be done today to make school a place that students love. The book will challenge the reader to think bigger, work and teach differently, and to expand our creativity. There is also a heavy focus on building positive relationships with students. Check out A Place They Love, available Friday October 14, 2022 on EduMatch, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
About the Author
Elijah has been teaching in the state of New Mexico since 2014, currently working in the Albuquerque Public School district. He enjoys podcasting as the host of The Shut Up And Teach Podcast. Elijah is the author of A Place They Love: Creating a Healthy School Culture and Positively Impacting Students, through EduMatch Publishing. He strives to make school a place that students love to be at by creating fun, safe, and engaging experiences and environments for all students. By challenging the norms of what education should look, act, and feel like, Elijah has created exciting opportunities for authentic learning to take place. Outside of the classroom, he can be found hanging with his wife Tracey, listening to or creating music, exercising, reading, or chilling with his cat, Nala.
Facebook: Elijah Carbajal