I’ve learned a lot this summer about reflective writing by reading very inspiring and thoughtful blogs by teachers, principals and superintendents. Since our high school’s literacy initiative this year is to focus on writing, I have decided to return to writing reflectively about my own professional thoughts and experiences. In my first few years of teaching, I used to write almost everyday. I would keep files on my Amiga, print them on my dot matrix printer, and then collect them in three ring binders. I believe they are still somewhere in the basement, packed away.
The inspiration to write again – as much as possible – comes from reading (and modeling) the blogs of some extraordinary educators. I’d like to share a few of them here first:
- Outside the Cave – This is one of the most prolific, concrete, organized, and reflective blogs I have read by a teacher. I really enjoy reading the posts. There’s a personal style and flow to the writing that draws me in and also makes me think. It is a great inspiration.
- The Principal’s Principles – Reading a blog from an administrator’s perspective is very interesting. I’ve always thought, because of my experience at my high school, that principal’s were so bogged down with the management of a school, that they don’t have a single second to share their thoughts and experiences (and commentary on research) with the world. This blog definitely proves it false.
- Crazy Teaching – I have to admit that when I wake up in the morning and check my messages and emails, I also look on Twitter to see some of the latest posts from this very inspiring science teacher and instructional coach. Her finger is on the (research based) pulse of continually pushing the edge of teaching and learning. Her posts remind me of a doctor who once told me that he has always tried to lead his life being on the ‘edge of what is known’. He said that is where everything interesting happens. He was in his 80’s and still acting on that vision. Terry does the same.
- The 21st Century Principal – When I first started following teachers, principals and superintendents on Twitter to build my personal learning network (PLN), I noticed that many profound and interesting tweets were coming from this person. When I explored his blog, I noticed something different, and not just in the title. He was a teacher, principal, IT director and superintendent that broke apart my expectations. His recent post is about returning to the classroom to teach, while still remaining an administrator. He also writes about modeling technology for instructional purposes. It is refreshing and empowering to read from the day to day reflections of a 21st century leader.
Now I’m beginning my 16th year of teaching at the same high school, and I want to clearly establish and articulate my goals for the school year. I intend on writing about these goals reflectively throughout the school year, trying to gauge whether I am able to maintain, sustain, and expand them as the day to day experiences of a 3000 student school play themselves out.
Goal #1: Be healthy.
For me, this goal means that I have to maintain my mental and physical well being. It seems easy, but to those who have taught in a sometimes challenging school environment, it is very easy to lose track. When I don’t take care of myself, I become weaker in my ability to care for others. There are many websites that offer advice in preventing teacher burnout as well as making healthy diet choices and keeping yourself on a sustained exercise schedule. For me, all three are important, and have been neglected at different levels over the years. I do not simply want to live, but live well. I don’t simply want to teach, but teach well. I want to be a better model for my students in making healthy life choices, and be open about that. By sticking to this goal throughout the year, and writing reflectively on it, I hope to be able to meet all three of those expectations.
Goal #2: Grow professionally.
I am at the mid point of my professional teaching career. Most teachers go for 30+ or sometimes even 40+ years in the field. When I began teaching, I told myself that I would evaluate my goals and vision at five year intervals. This would give me a somewhat random point to step back and see if I am still meeting my life goals in my professional job (that might be a different post).
After the first five years, I decided I loved teaching and wanted to continue. I was happy experimenting with different methods, specifically technology, to facilitate effective learning in the classroom (this was when my computers were new). After the second five years, I had reflected on my growing confidence in my content area. I felt that I had pushed myself to the point where new content opportunities would engage me and the students more. In other words, I wanted to keep learning and share that new learning with my students. I was able to do this with designing and teaching a course on Multicultural Studies. Technology use was fading in the classroom, because of the lack of adapting resources at the school, but I found myself expanding deeper into the area of online learning. I taught a virtual course in American foreign policy for a few years and also integrated an open discussion forum on my website, which was continually evolving to deliver content and (hopefully) engage students.
At the end of my third five year reflection, I had discovered my potential (in my opinion) as a leader outside the classroom. I had taken part in community leadership initiatives, two years of leadership training from a national program, led a school restructuring initiative of teachers trying to offer a pilot program to reform their school, and enrolled in a principal’s license program. All of these pointed me in the direction of professional growth. I found that spoke to a part of me I had not explored before. In spite of institutional inertia as well as political and economic challenges, that part of me is still strong. I want it to be nurtured.
Now, for my fourth five years (or wherever it will take me), I want to integrate all of these self-findings into my day to day experiences with students in the classroom. I have discovered an entire network of teachers and administrators around the country with similar goals. They all have a desire to share their practice and grow professionally. For me this means I want to share. I would like to collaborate with other teachers, get feedback on lessons and practice, and learn from others who are similar to me. I also want to try things that are new. I’ve learned that I am not comfortable in the center. I need to be on the edge of what is known. I’ve seen this modeled in others and want to nurture this in myself. It could mean more use of social media, or more development of 21st century skills, or more out-of-class learning experiences, but it must be new. I do not want to find myself ever in a ‘rut’ in the classroom. I need to focus on this goal every day. Finally, I need to reflect. This is why I am writing now, and its why I want to do so publicly. I am asking for support with each word typed. As a teacher, I cannot live on a metaphorical island and pretend I am growing. None of us can.
Goal #3: Empower others.
My last goal is one of the most important to me. As a teacher, I think its easy to fall into the habit of caring for others more than you care for yourself. That’s the part of us that seeks to serve the community, and the future (children). For me, I have learned the power of the network. Breast cancer survivors can extend their lives by talking in group therapy. Social media contacts have strengthened friendships and expanded the ability of people from around the world to share common interests and dreams. Unions have built their strength through history around the power of the whole, not the individual. This is a lesson I’ve known, but not fully practiced as much as I should. What good is a personal strength if not shared with the world? What good is there to experience growth in myself and not share it with my colleagues and students? What good is it to struggle against sometimes impossible odds (pushing that boulder up the hill) without seeking the support of others? I don’t want to presume that I alone have the ability to empower others, but I do have a role to play in making my world a better place. I can only do that by passing along lessons and failures with those close to me. This includes my students. We don’t grow unless we fail. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned recently, and I want to share it openly with my students. I want to also empower, to the extent possible, groups of people through shared discussion, a common vision, and mistakes that may be familiar to many. This means coaching the new use of Web 2.0 possibilities. It means strengthening the relationships with my students (working harder at that) so that I can have the structure in my classes to teach my content. It also means being humble enough to let others empower me. This has to be a priority. I don’t have all of the answers or know all of the questions. I can’t grow if I’m insulated from change. I want to literally ‘be the change I want to see in the world’.
Those are my goals. I intend to measure my experiences through the school year against the ‘rubric’ I’ve laid out here. It should be fun!