Vision is essential. It’s important to know where you are headed and why you are headed there. Figuring out how to get there is a process, but as long as the vision is guided by values, the methods may change. The goals don’t. So this school year, I set some goals for myself. I determined that I would 1) be healthy, 2) grow professionally and 3) empower others.
So, how am I doing?
With my students, I have worked hard to build relationships, demand rigor and make the learning relavent. I know these are catch words for the ‘buzz’ in education, but I really believe them. In my school, with so many institutional barriers and administrative failures to support this vision, it is not easy to do. Sometimes the punitive system that suspends students works against a teacher who is trying to develop an academic relationship with an at-risk student. Sometimes the lack of enforced rules does the same. Its just not easy.
With my students, I have tried my best to be genuine. I don’t want to ‘cover my cake with frosting’ (if that makes any sense) in the classroom. If a student is struggling, I have done my best to let them know that I will always be there to help them. If someone is having a bad day, I have done my best to make sure the next day I do not judge them.
Again, it isn’t easy. Sometimes one or two students can make building this dynamic really hard. This year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve tried to view the classroom dynamic as reflective rather than reactive. The tone set in the classroom reflects my ability to manifest my energy and create my day rather than reacting to situations as they come up. Getting to this point took a lot of self-growth, but it is worth it, even if I am not perfect in its application.
The other day I found myself with a ‘head down’ situation that I was not proud of in the way I handled it. I also confronted a student about skipping my class without fully checking to see if she was in the ‘in school suspension’ room, which she claims. I jumped to my own conclusions and reacted to a situation from my own feelings rather than the situation in front of me. Clearly, I still have a way to go. Teachers learn everyday too.
Growing professionally was my second goal this year. In some ways, I think that I looked at this simplistically at first. I thought that I would make a point of attending more conferences and contact more individuals in my (Twitter) personal learning network, so that I could stay abreast of the current pedagogical thinking. While it is true that I did go out of my way to schedule and attend the New England Conference on Multicultural Education at the end of September, and it is true that I have been continuing to engage my network of educators on Twitter, I am beginning to understand that growing professionally is not simply a matter of contacts and research. It’s being able to confront my fears about my own limitations and inadequacies and also being able to create and sustain a vision of why and how I want to grow professionally in the first place.
On a day to day level, this means that I have to live the vision with smaller, quicker decisions about how I act out my profession. I believe I am self-reflective, but am I willing to make the changes necessary to confront my fears and improve my practice? This year I am not so sure of the evidence so far, but I am becoming more open to looking for it in the classroom and in face-to-face interactions with students.
Concerning administration, I have a harder time. I have lost a lot of trust in many of the people who supervise me (or don’t, for that matter). I do not have any evidence that they share the same vision or even understand how to implement , articulate, or understand its basic concepts. This is not true of all administrators, but my experience with school policy reform and restructuring has left me bitter and biased. In order to grow professionally, I now understand that I have to move beyond those feelings, or I have to move beyond this particular school. Stating those realizations is a first step, but I have to do more. I hope to report on more progress in this area with future reflections during the school year.
On this front, I believe I have made a good deal of progress. Boundaries are good, and although I have had my challenges in holding myself to them, I believe I have become better at seeing them, if not reinforcing them when confronted with situations that put them into play. My toughest boundaries are not with students, but with administration. I am learning to set them, but following through has not been easy. On both occasions of professional development days (in September and November), I did not follow through on my own boundaries set in the morning before going to work. I found myself calling out incompetence when I saw them and asking deeper questions about the meaning and vision behind tasks, when I suspected they were not there. This isn’t my place. It’s not my job and it only makes professional relationships more difficult to maintain. It’s also snarky and immature, based on my previous failure to succeed in school redesign initiatives. Bottom line? It’s not healthy. I’m looking forward future posts that reflect growth on this issue.
On a more basic note, I have been dealing with stress, diet, and exercise in a somewhat consistent way. I’ve been making better choices about free time and better decisions about my own priorities as a person before being a teacher. I wasn’t always this way. The situation used to be reversed, and I am grateful it has switched. I need to keep myself on the healthy path in order to keep myself a healthy person.
Of all of my three goals, this is the one I am not as sure about concerning results or even progress. I know that my posts on Twitter have created in me a sense of ‘giving back’ to the education community, no matter how many people read or respond. With my colleagues, I have not sought to put myself in a training or sharing role, as I expected in the summer, and that is something that I want to reflect on. Because my PLN on Twitter and in the EdCamp conferences have inspired me with more professional growth than I’ve had in my previous 15 years of teaching, I expected that I would become a voice for those opportunities in my school. That hasn’t happened. I haven’t stepped out of the crowd in the way I had expected. Maybe this is a response to my ‘low profile’ mode, following the failure at school restructuring. Maybe I’ve tired of challenging the administration, by demonstrating what leadership opportunities they are not taking. Perhaps I’ve simply considered the mountain too big to climb. In any case, I am disappointed with myself for not living up to my own expectations concerning ‘being the change I want to see in the world’. This is something I want to think more deeply about and re-examine at another point. Maybe there’s other perspectives I haven’t considered, in my school and in myself.
Empowering students is a whole different context. I’d like to think that my ‘teaching style’ is one that encourages students to think deeper about the issues, events and individuals we’re studying. My unit and lesson goals are designed to do this, and my personal pedagogy reflect this basic philosophy: it is better to have more questions than answers. I have sought student feedback at different points in the semester, and will do so in the future. My teaching strategies and tactics have to be self-correcting. If I want my students, as I do, to be critical thinking participants in their world, I need to focus my classroom instruction on those goals, not simply covering content. Have I become the my own victim of bad teaching? Yes, there have been times this semester where I have put content over understanding. Looking back, I can see that I’ve slipped in my vision of empowering students from time to time. While each day, and each student (at times) is a new challenge, they are also new opportunities. I can do better.
This is the first time I have posted reflectively my vision, goals, and reflections on how I’m doing actualizing them. At first, it was a little scary putting my thoughts out there. Will the Superintendent read my post and think that I’m a threat because I still have boundary issues calling out administrators on perceived short-comings? Will my colleagues think I’m a circle-spinning wordy nutcase? Will my students think that their teacher doesn’t have it all together?
I know that through the process of writing I have answered those questions already. Reflection has given me the confidence to challenge myself. I truly do want to 1) be healthy, 2) grow professionally, and 3) empower others. There’s nothing wrong with that vision and the process of writing about them has only made me stronger. I look forward to my next reflections.