Why I Tribe – #CompelledTribe

I am one of those members that has fallen short of my promised participation in #CompelledTribe over the last few months. Yet, I am here because The Compelled Tribe inspires me; it is bigger than me or any one of the individuals that comprise it. And, I want to be a part of something bigger, something with the potential to make an impact, to influence others. Together we can do that as we engage with each other’s content on social media and hopefully curate and create resources that will influence other educators, like the brand new teacher I have committed to mentoring this year.

The #CompelledTribe is made up of people that I admire and look to for inspiration. And, although there are many members that I don’t know at all and may never meet in person, just knowing that they’re there, being catalysts in their individual spheres of influence, keeps me motivated to want to do the same. Wherever we are in the world we are making a difference; that’s the compelled in the tribe. That’s why I stick around. That’s why this year I am recommitting to this PLN. And, even though this particular post is long overdue and my involvement in the Tribe has been scant and therefore my impact small, I am here.

This is a bittersweet time of the year for many teachers – the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. We have so many conflicting feelings. But I’m ready! Here’s hoping everyone has an amazing, fulfilling and joyful school year.

 

August

The month of August is when teachers, in many places but not all, start the back-to-school countdown. If this is you, by this time of the year, you are probably gearing up to meet your new class of students or are participating in professional learning activities planned by your school or jurisdiction. And some, like me, are beginning to realize that the summer is almost over and that maybe we didn’t complete all those plans and goals we had from opening boxes from a recent move (still working on it, but making progress daily) to an intense month of working on a big project (I accomplished a lot more on the work needed to move ahead in my dissertation than I had anticipated). Whatever you did, it’s time to celebrate it.

Now, the stark reality of what being back at school entails is slowly settling in around me. Nevertheless, I am trying to do what my husband suggested when I lamented the end of summer: don’t stress about what’s coming up. Just enjoy the moment now so that you can be in the moment once you go back to work. I think these are wise words and I intend to follow them.

So, over the next few weeks, as my calendar starts to fill up, I will take each event as it comes. I will revel in the moment and follow through on what are becoming joyful routines for me this summer. I will continue to spend 10 minutes in the morning just writing in a stream of consciousness way before checking social media. So far, so good! I am on day #4 of this new plan and it is really helping to clear my mind and to stay away from social media first thing in the morning. This morning writing is just what I need to work things out in my mind, to set a plan for the day, to name and explore mixed up feelings.

I know the first couple of weeks back to school, at least, will be an adjustment period for everyone as we move from vacation mode into school mode – continuing with new and old routines, recognizing and adapting to lack of flexible time, reestablishing a sensible sleep pattern. Nevertheless, I aim to take it slowly. To do as much as I can. And, especially to combine significant spurts of head work with exercising, watching another episode from a favorite series or simply talking with my husband.

I know that I tend to write similar posts to this one where I examine my habits, promise to do better and end up in the same place or worse than before. But, for some reason, this summer feels significantly different than others. It’s not that I have got it all figured out, but my level of productivity – reading, writing, exercising, eating better – has got me all fired up to continue these habits once school starts. Of course, I know everything will slow down, but I’m discovering that time is truly a relative construct. Ten minutes seems like nothing, but when you put on a timer (this really works!) and sit down to read or write, it amounts to a lot. These small moments have made a huge difference for me.

So, to those of you who are back at school, here’s wishing you the best year, yet.

To those of you that have already started teaching, enjoy your students; they depend on you.

And, to those who are getting ready to go back, I hope you slow down these last few days rather than rushing through them; you don’t want to miss out on important moments along the way.

And, as for me, I am definitely more than just a little bit excited about going back to school. Bring it on!

Crossposted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.

 

 

Work-Life Balance

e5079-compelled2btribe_jpg

I have rarely been successful at finding a work-life balance.

I have a hard time turning off work so that I can enjoy my life more.

However, I am happy to report that I have gotten better about this over the last few years. I’m not sure what was the turning point or the event that forced this change to happen, but if I think about it a little bit, it was probably the year I had Frank (not his real name) in my classroom because I requested him.

Frank was the kid nobody wanted to deal with. He was the kind of student I thought I could save. Save from what? I’m not sure. Maybe from himself? Maybe I was trying to be a martyr. Play the hero. Be the one who could get through to him.

Frank was an aggressive child and nothing I did was going to change that. I didn’t believe that at first and I threw myself completely into the challenge.

That year was probably my worst year as a teacher. My health was in bad shape. My personal life was a shambles. The rest of the class, bless their hearts, suffered because of Frank’s outbursts.

I don’t know how I survived at all.

In the end, did all of my worry and perseverating about this one child, 24/7, make a difference in his life for the better? Probably not. It was too much for me, or anyone else for that matter, to handle at the time.

So, at the end of that year, consciously or not, I began to make changes. I started to change my conversation about school in more positive directions, or I didn’t bring it home at all. I tried to stay in the moment so that I could be present for my family whom I had ignored for the year that Frank was in my classroom. I started to see all that I had missed. I vowed not to do that again.

Since then I have realized that I’m not a martyr; I can’t save the world by myself. That’s not even my job. At least, it’s not in my job description!

I am committed to my students, my profession and my learning. I will always strive to be better than I was the day before for myself and for the students in my classroom. But it bears repeating: I am not a martyr. I am no good to anyone if I’m not well. That has been a hard lesson to accept.

And, reflecting on this now, so many years later, I wish I’d been able to accept these lessons sooner: it is so important to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Teachers are notoriously not good at this and so many of us end up with stress-related illnesses. Even with all of the information out there about the importance of work-life balance, so many of our colleagues stuffer from an unbalanced life. I wish I could take them into my confidence and say, “Don’t. It’s not worth it. You can be an effective teacher and be healthy at the same time.” It’s just a matter of knowing ourselves. Knowing when to stop. Knowing what gives us energy and joy. Yes, teaching gives me energy and joy, and when it doesn’t (the year of Frank was that year for me), then it’s time to regroup, reevaluate, remove yourself and start again.

You will be grateful you did.  I know I am.

This Spring Break I will be going to my oldest daughter’s baby shower. The anticipation of that celebration brings me unbelievable joy.

What will bring you joy during the upcoming break?

 

 

First Day of Spring Break

Today is the first day of Spring Break.
I woke up early anyway.
I made myself coffee.
I sat down at my desk.
I set a timer to check my personal and school emails – 30 minutes.
I did OK for a little while.
The timer buzzed.
I turned it off.
But, I kept checking my email.
I forgot my resolve –
to check for a set amount of time – and then move on to something more important.

Fortunately, I didn’t forget about #TheEdCollabGathering day of workshops.

This was my first time participating.
I couldn’t stay online for the entire day.
But, that was OK because the sessions are viewable on YouTube, 24/7.
I have this week to do that.
In fact, there are two sessions I am going to view in the next couple of days.

Still, I participated in the opening and closing keynotes,
and in a session about creating a classroom literacy community.

Here are three key ideas that have stayed with me from the opening keynote, Celebrating Student Voice, with Phil Bildner, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch.

  • We must celebrate and amplify student voice
  • Your story is precious. Your story is valuable. Your story matters.
  • If a student asks, “Can I…” about their writing, say, “Yes!”

So, maybe I should have stayed in bed.
Maybe I shouldn’t have participated in #TheEdCollabGathering.
Maybe I shouldn’t have thought about teaching.
Maybe I shouldn’t have sent an email to one of my students to share a webpage that I thought he’d be interested in.

Maybe…but I’m so glad I did!

Competition vs. Collaboration

As soon as I read that the common topic for our #CompelledTribe blog posts this week would be competition vs. collaboration
I was on high alert. 
I flinched. 
I bit my tongue. 
I was on the defensive.

Collaboration, yes. Competition, no. This has been my mantra.

Nevertheless, I decided to set aside my gut reaction long enough to really think about this. 

So, here’s the monologue I carried out with myself:

Me: Is there such a thing as healthy competition? 
Me: Yes, I think so. For example, team sports are competitive because you’re competing against another team. At the same, it’s an example of healthy competition because there’s a lot of teamwork and collaboration involved in order to win. 
Me: So, I can imagine how collaboration can work to make an institution, organization or workplace competitive in its field. 

(Pregnant pause right about now.)

Me: And, what about toxic collaboration? Does that exist? 
Me: Absolutely! Collaboration that is mandated with little to no planning or inclusion of participants’ voices and expertise is likely to fail. Human beings crave voice and choice. When we don’t get it, we don’t do our best work.  

So, now that we’ve established that both healthy competition and toxic collaboration are possible, we can suggest the opposite to be true: toxic competition and healthy collaboration are also possible. Can we then further argue that competition and collaboration can co-exist, perhaps even thrive, so that we can get the best of both worlds?

Perhaps.

What if we consider (healthy) competition, but against ourselves? What if the truth of the matter is that we are always competing against ourselves, even if we’re not aware that we are? What if the purpose of competing against ourselves is to make ourselves over? To create the next iteration of who we are? A better us?

Now, that idea reminded me that competing against others is never fair. Why? Because we are all different. We have different perspectives and experiences. For example, some of our students know how to do school, while others do not. Is it fair, in the sense of effective student learning, to have students compete against their peers for the highest grade or the best score on an assignment? I don’t think so. 

Should we therefore eliminate all forms of competition? I’m not sure that’s desirable or even possible. However, we can promote instances of healthy competition whenever possible.  

This is the kind of classroom and school culture that many of us strive to create – (healthy) collaborative spaces where students can safely explore learning and make themselves over again and again (healthy competition) into better and better versions of themselves.

So, what do you think? Am I just confusing the issues here? What is your thinking on competition vs. collaboration? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.  






         

Thank You

Source:
http://www.planwallpaper.com/static/images/thank-you-clothesline-752×483.jpg


I had a hard time writing this post. In fact, I kept putting it off all week and now, a week and a day later, I am forced to write something. I feel like I should have a big, inspiring story about a former student who contacted me years later to thank me for being his or her teacher. 

But, sadly, I don’t have a story like that though after 30 years of teaching, it seems like I should. At least, I don’t have one big story. I have small moments. 
It seems like those should count, too. They’re important. Aren’t they?
I can excuse myself by saying that of the 30 years I’ve been in education, I spent seven out of the classroom, and so I lost contact with a lot of kids and their families. But, that sounds lame. What is true (read: less lame) is that I have never stayed more than six years in one school site and I’ve moved from North to South America and back again twice. It’s easy to sever ties when that happens. 
Nevertheless, I do have one small moment from this past year to share. In January one of my students moved away and for a few months after that, we were in touch via email. My student would write about how much she missed our class, what she was doing and, in one memorable email, thanked me for being a strict teacher. 
Bye miss I will never forget you, from all the teachers I had you’ve been the funniest, hilarious, and the one who most teached (sic) me. I like you most…because your’e strict. Take it as a good thing because you are preparing us for the other grades. THANK YOU. You’ve also been very funny. Never forget me because I never will.
This was from a student who spent the entire time she was in my class trying to undermine or poke fun at everything we did. I could never call her out on it, but I knew she was doing things behind my back. The fact that everyone found her charming, and I found her sneaky, made my suspicions that much harder to handle. 
Social media has facilitated staying in touch with families of former students. Facebook, LinkedIn, email, and Twitter make it easy to track down just about anybody you want to find who wants to be found. 
I know that my students from my first few years of teaching are out there somewhere. They’re in their early 30’s. I sometimes wonder where they are, what they’re doing. How they turned out. Do they remember our year together? 
It took me over 20 years to connect with a teacher who was my mentor in high school. I don’t know if I’ve ever told him how much he meant to me at the time. Even after reuniting face-to-face a few years ago in NY, I never got up the courage to thank him for his support, encouragement and unconditional faith in my potential to become whatever I set my mind on becoming. I wonder how often that really happens. There are definitely stories out there, but how often do students contact their former teachers to thank them? I wish I’d told Mr. G how grateful I was that he was my teacher. But, I still haven’t done that. Does that mean I care any less? Does that make him less effective?
I’d like to think it doesn’t. But, taking the time to reach out makes us feel appreciated and loved. 
As I move into my 31st year in education, although I have no regrets there are many things I wish I had done differently. I hope my hundreds of former students out there know that I love them and wish them well. 
And, I hope it’s mutual. 
I learned so much more from my students than they could have ever learned from me. 

Thank you for being my teachers. 

Searching for Balance

I have been doing a lot of soul searching over the last couple of days. 
And, I’ve come to the conclusion that I must change my attitude – shift my stance – so I can assume a new perspective. So that I am more aligned with what’s important and may add value to my life.  
Focusing on the negative is not making me stronger or healthier. In fact, I am often stressed because I worry a lot about unimportant things. I obsess over situations out of my control. I dismiss positive experiences that would help lift my spirits and align my focus towards what’s important. 
I need a distraction from my own thoughts.  
I need balance in my life. Not because I work hard to prepare my classes. Not because I read a lot of professional literature. Not because I wrote a lot this summer and will continue to do so now that school has started. But because I have been obsessing on the wrong things. Mostly, I obsess about what someone said or did and what it says about me as a teacher. I obsess about my worth as a professional. And, I have to stop. I am not a new teacher. I have been doing this for a long time. I love what I do. All of it. But, my lack of balance is hurting me. 
So, this school year I will find balance in small and big ways by taking better care of myself both physically and emotionally. 
I will drink more water on a daily basis. I know this may sound insignificant and obvious. But since I haven’t been practicing this simple habit, it is not an insignificant change for me. 
I will stay focused on the positive, especially what happens in my classroom. My students are always a source of joy for me as a teacher. 
I will not imbue a casual comment with anything beyond its face value. It’s not always about me! 
I will exercise on a regular basis. 
I will eat well. 
I will write down positive events that happen throughout the day in a small notebook and refer to it when I’m feeling down. Hopefully, this will help feed my soul. 
I will stop worrying about what others think of me. My opinion of myself is much more important.
What will you do to find balance during this new school year?