It’s hard. It requires taking that first step. Of following it with another. Of having to get back up if you fall down. Learning to walk is tough but small children soon learn all the complex steps in taking one step, then another, then another… then they’re running.
Getting started on making change or reframing the work you do is the same way. It’s hard to get started. You cling to the furniture around you, balancing yourself, looking longingly at the open space in front of you yet not wanting to fall. Maybe just a bit more studying that space….
In a world filled with so much information, when will it be enough learning before it transfers into motion forward. Maybe if I read more a few blogs or papers or books….. but there isn’t enough time to read it all but maybe just a few more…. the open space beckons you.
but it’s not just the information. It’s the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of going unnoticed. Fear that it won’t work out.
Fear… it holds us back, whispers all sorts of discouraging words,keeps us from even trying. We often don’t have to worry about failure because fear keeps us from trying.
When I first began teaching I wasn’t very good. I might have been awful but for the fact that there were other teachers around me whose classes were a lot less exciting than mine. Mind you, I taught Arts Ed, Phys Ed and some English and there were days when it was VERY exciting. In art – all kinds of things happen when you give 26+ grade 7’s some coloured ink, lino boards, paper and rollers and instructions that aren’t quite as clear as you thought they were!
But I started. Each day, I’d try again. Each evening I’d spend hours trying to figure out what I could do differently or what I might change or….. it was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time but I knew I was missing something. I’d walk past classrooms and … well my classroom wasn’t like that!
Somewhere along the way I began to study teaching: teaching strategies, methods, assessment, planning….. I began to think that if I could just read the right books or find the right method or strategies then I would become a “good teacher”.
Heck, I wasn’t even shooting for “great”! I wanted to be good. Solid. Not stellar. No way, because then you would stand out and people would up their expectations.
Good Enough…. but that wasn’t me.
I was always trying new strategies and methods in the classroom, experimenting with new configurations for learning, different assessment strategies and ways of students presenting their understanding. Somewhere along the way I stumbled across Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, Tomlinson’s Differentiation and then both together! Rubrics, feedback, multiple assessment options for students. No two years were the same – with each class I learned that I would have to make changes to meet their learning needs – even though I didn’t really know that was what I was doing at the time.
Along the way I was fortunate to work with some great teachers. I mean, really great. What made them great? Their planning? The strategies? The assessment? I spent time trying to figure it out and it was right in front of me all along. See, great teachers begin with the end in mind – they begin with student. Relationships are the foundation. They don’t give up on students. Student growth and development are their focus. They ground their work in the relationships they build with their students.
It took me a long time to figure that out because I was looking in the wrong place to start. I was looking for the method or plan or organization or strategy when, all along, great teachers begin with relationships. All they do is linked to the relationships they develop with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members.
They aren’t afraid to try new or different things for fear of making mistakes because they know that those mistakes are great opportunities for learning with their students.
I think we need to do serious hard work in producing alternative models without being tied down to what can be implemented in the short run. I think if we take industries like aircraft, or any big industry, they are spending large resources on planning for the day when they know that what’s cutting-edge today is going to be obsolete. The education world has to learn to put a fraction of its resources into what cannot be done today, but can be, but which can stand there as experimenting, as working with visions of a possible future. Seymour Papert
They don’t shy away from incorporating technology because they understand that when pedagogically driven, technology can enhance the learning experience. They are always reading and questioning what they do in the classroom because they are a true life-long learner, curious about the world around them.
They aren’t afraid to start even though they don’t know all the steps. See, these teachers have a secret that they share with everyone and that secret, which took me so long to figure out was …….
Reframe the Story
It begins with the relationships in the classroom. You can be innovative and creative, I sure was, but I didn’t pay attention to that relationship piece. Somehow I missed that part. See, lost in the search, lost in the reading and reflection, missed in the implementation was just how key relationships are to the classroom.
For me, it took my own struggle with “what am I missing?” and the frustration of not “getting it” to finally cast aside my preconceived ideas about what it meant to be a “good teacher” and reframe – what made me a good student? What drove me along? Why was I motivated to learn?
Yes, part of it was a desire to learn but part, the part I wasn’t always aware of, was the relationship I formed with others as I learned and the key the instructor/teacher played in the learning. When learning begins with relationships, teachers begin to put that little bit of energy into developing for the future. They aren’t content with what they are doing today but are looking forward to see what might be tomorrow.
So, what does your today and tomorrow look like?
Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season! A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.
Filtering the Influx
In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says
I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.
I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read. I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.
As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.
In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping, they have less time to do these things than they did before.
Time for What’s Important
Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically
Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally, a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things. I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!
Now – Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children, I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship . I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.
I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.
Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way. We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.
The guilt is gone.
Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?
Listening in the Midst
As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus, to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.
George is correct, isolation is a choice.
I have met very few teachers who are all alone.
They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.
I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.
I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.
If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?