Raise Those Hands – {Lindsey Smallwood}

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I’m delighted to welcome Lindsey Smallwood to the blog today, writing about words that changed her world.  

Raise Those Hands

It was my first day.

Not my first day teaching, I’d been teaching as an inclusion specialist for 2 years and I’d worked as a pastor for six years before that. But the summer before I’d requested a transfer to a new position as a special day class teacher.

It was my first day in my own classroom.

I was placed in a 4th and 5th grade class for students with significant cognitive disabilities, like autism and down syndrome. This was great news – to me this is The BEST age – independent and still sweet. Not so little that you have to help with things like tying shoes or going to the bathroom but not so big that they have “tween” angst already brewing.

Eager, I spent weeks writing lesson plans, looking up projects online and preparing materials. I felt alive with ideas and excited by the new opportunities classroom teaching would afford. I was nervous too. I wanted so badly to succeed, to make a difference, to be a good classroom teacher.

What if I failed?

That first day I couldn’t help but smile as my students walked off the bus. They were loud and smiling and bubbling with energy. We spent the first hour with usual activities: introductions, reviewing the rules, touring the classroom.

Our first academic session of the morning was math. I began the lesson by asking questions. Students were calling out or staring into space. I reminded them to raise their hands to speak, modeling it with my own hand.

Soon I realized that none of them had ever been in a class where they were expected to raise their hands. They were used to small group work or one-on-one attention.

Raising their hands was a new concept!

On the fly I changed the lesson plan.  We put the math away and spent the next 45 minutes playing “Raise Your Hand”, a game I made up in the moment.  We raised them high and low, we raised them slowly and quickly.  We raised them one at a time and all together. One student helped another who had trouble doing it on his own. There was laughing as they tried and I could see that some of them were starting to get it.

I decided to try our math lesson again. After getting out the materials and making sure I had the student’s attention, I asked my first question.

One moment. Silence. Blank Stares.

Two moments. Someone started playing with their pencil.

Three moments. I start to worry that they don’t understand what I’m asking.

And then? A child in the first row raised his hand.


What a thrill! Knowing that I taught something and he learned it, just like that.

I pointed to him.

“Yes, I see that raised hand, can you tell us how many blocks are in the circle?”

He smiled at me and shook his head.

“I have no idea, but you’re a real good teacher, Mrs. Smallwood. Just wanted to say that.”

My heart melted a little while I tried to regain focus on the lesson.


He said “…you’re a real good teacher, Mrs. Smallwood.”

I heard “I like you and I like being here.”


He said “…you’re a real good teacher, Mrs. Smallwood.”

I heard “I feel safe here and I’m willing to try something new, something that’s hard for me.”


He said “…you’re a real good teacher, Mrs. Smallwood.”

I heard “I believe in you.”


In that moment I wanted to earn those words, to be worthy of his sweetly sincere praise. It gave me confidence to keep teaching the lesson. I realized those precious little faces really did believe in me and I in them and that together we were off to a pretty good start. Even if we’d done nothing but raise our hands all morning.

Not bad for a first day.


LindseyLindsey Smallwood is a Boulder, Colorado based writer and speaker. She is married to Chris, a physics PhD, and they have two sons. A former pastor and teacher and current lover of long weekends, she blogs at www.songbirdandanerd.com. Find her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

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20 thoughts on “Raise Those Hands – {Lindsey Smallwood}”

  1. Lindsey, first you made me smile and then as I read on for some reason my eyes started tearing up. Must be these spring allergies.

  2. My precious DIL teaches sweet kiddos like this. I sent her the link because it reminded me so much of her! THANKS!!!!

  3. Love this. It’s nice to get compliments from the heart, especially when it’s job related. What a fun teacher!

  4. Awww, this made me cry! Relationship, compassion, approval, love and acceptance are what kids need more than any fact. How wonderful, I know that must have meant the world to you!

  5. Oh this is beautiful!! I hope you are having a wonderful teacher’s week. The teachers who help my kids – they both have special needs – really make their lives so much better. And they love my girls, who love them RIGHT BACK. Thank you!!

  6. What a beautiful thing you’re doing for these children as well as for their parents! As a mom of a child with special needs, I truly appreciate those, who take the time to interact with my son.

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