Practically everyone has heard the old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. We laugh and scoff, as if that is the craziest thought we have heard besides a soup sandwich. And yet, humans have a tendency to stick to the “known” or the usual.
Case in point: Dave and I decided we were going to shake things up this weekend and do something different on Sunday. Come Sunday, we took the dogs for a walk (as we do every day) then started to get ready for the rest of the day, when we suddenly decided “Let’s go try brunch at someplace we’ve never been before.” We did and he actually found Snickerdoodle Decaf coffee. I had an Amaretto Italian Crème soda (I’m certain it was low calorie). What’s the point? If I were teaching a workshop with adult participants, I would resist the urge to answer my own question, and instead ask the learners to do the learners. Unfortunately, I have yet to incorporate true interactive media into my blog, so I’ll continue. I think the point is we need to shake things up do something different in order to actually become something or someone different. For me, that entails learning something new or doing something a different way. Right now, I am taking a Spanish course through Rosetta Stone in order to become a bit more fluent in mi espanol before heading to Bogota, Colombia for work in December. Rosetta Stone does some great things to shake up learning. To avoid stagnation and keep learning fresh, Rosetta Stone only speaks to you in Spanish. They only write words in Spanish. They only ask questions in Spanish. And they use varying techniques (both expressive and receptive language) to keep the learner on their toes.
I am always on the lookout for fresh new ideas to use in my teaching. When I work with teachers all over the country, I find teachers who have a natural curiosity about learning. I get fired up when I get to work with folks like this. In a world that can get caught up in negativity, I find my passion in working with teachers and school leaders who still have a passion for learning something new. It is only when I encounter people who think they know everything about teaching, already, that I struggle to not ask, “How might learning something new (new teaching strategies, innovative ideas, shared resources) help rekindle a passion for your work?”
I recently heard a teacher belittling an educational website because the website’s founding member was not a teacher. The teacher said, “What does a film director know about teaching? I don’t tell directors how to make movies.” My first thought was, “Ummmm….but, yes, we do constantly tell film makers how we think films should be made. Who among us hasn’t commented that a movie was too long, the dialogue was boring, they shoulda, coulda, woulda blah, blah blah?” My second thought was “Way to throw out the baby with the bath water.” What I mean by that is: if we want to continue to do the same things we have done for years, do it. But maybe, just maybe, if we get outside our comfort zone and really take a look, the very thing (or website) we are complaining about might have just the new idea we need to freshen up our classroom management, our engagement strategies, or our classroom community building. Taking a new idea from a website that was founded by a film director who encourages teachers around the world to post their cool ideas for what works may be just the balm we need.
My final thought (Dave says it isn’t possible for me to have a final thought, but let’s suspend reality for a moment) was that we should look at all sources of new ideas as a gift. I will admit that if Jeffrey Dahmer started a teacher website, I might not decide to partake, but a website whose mission is to help teachers find resources to implement project-based learning, social and emotional learning, comprehensive assessment, teacher development, integrated studies, and technology integration sounds like a pretty great place to me.
And, since we are talking about some fresh new ideas to help students focus, how about this article about BRAIN BREAKS ?
Working with educators is my life. It's also my passion. I love watching what turns educators on and I think it is equally important to see what turns educators off. A dear friend (who happens to be the music teacher where I was principal several years ago) shared this ARTICLE and I'd like to steal it for my blog this week (Harry Wong said good teachers "steal" from others). Please read it then join me back here for my regularly scheduled blog. ;)
To say effective teachers enjoy teaching seems like you should say "Duh." after it (if you use that kind of language). Of course they enjoy it, right? Or they wouldn't be doing it, right? Au contraire (I have recently begun taking Spanish through Rosetta Stone to improve my skills, so now I can be tri-lingual, right?). Unfortunately, many people do work they don't enjoy, every single day. I have a huge interest in this topic---should we make a career out of something we are good at doing, or should we make a career out of something we love doing? As a lifelong educator, I am blessed to have done both. I love what I do, and I think I am good at it. But what about those folks who went into a profession, not because they loved it, but because of other reasons. Perhaps law was the family business. Maybe coal mining was what everyone in the town did. Perhaps farming simply was the way of life. Maybe Dad sat you down and said, "You better do something that makes some money if you are going to take care of a family."
Dave and I play a game every once in awhile (yes, this is a family show, wait for it). We call it "What would you be doing if nobody paid you to do it?" I can honestly say I would still want to work with teachers and administrators and students, no matter what. Learning and leading are my passions, not just a way to make a living. Think about what you do. Would you do it if you didn't get paid to do it? How about if you had all the money you needed and you could simply do whatever you wanted? Would you still be doing what you are doing, now?
When I (along with 24 other folks in my cohort at University of West Florida) began my doctoral journey in 2009, we took a class in which Dr. Sherri Zimmerman asked us, "Why do you teach?" I had a tough time putting it into words, but I finally said, "Since I was six years old, I knew this was what I was meant to do. I have to do it." It made me think about all the other paths I could have taken but didn't and all the people in the world who are doing what they do because of necessity, not because of passion.
Here are my questions for the day: In order to be an effective teacher, do you have to love teaching? On the flip side, if you are completely passionate about teaching, will that inherently make you a more effective teacher?
Please take a moment to really think about where you stand on this issue. And then, don't stop there. Please share your thoughts in the comments section. I would really love to know how people feel about this topic!
You might even say I am passionate about it.
Dave tells me I shouldn’t ever play poker. He says my facial expressions totally give me away. I show my frustration when I encounter people who seem to want to throw hand grenades into a pleasant experience. I express my love for my family and friends and want to hug on everyone I love. If I am excited about the look and smell of a new car, Dave has a hard time striking the best deal because I can hardly contain my joy.
This weekend, I had the joy and privilege of being able to spend time in San Antonio to celebrate my dad’s 85th birthday. My sister, brothers, and I all gathered with our spouses and significant others to spend time together with Daddy. We ate way too much, we laughed enough to get our complete ab workouts for the week, and we simply enjoyed being together. We recognize the years we will be able to do visits such as this are likely limited, so we just made the most of it. We told stories of Daddy’s impact on each of us---his love for and talent in music have left their legacy with each of us, and we are grateful.
Besides visiting with family, Dave and I spent time with some of my friends from yesteryear. We met up with Trish, my best friend from grade school. We not only spent time with Trish and her husband at a delicious Mexican food restaurant, we also got to know three of their little kids. What a treasure it was to see my friend from gradeschool have gradeschool children of her own. We laughed and hugged a bunch and can’t wait for the next trip.
We went to a delicious German restaurant with some of my dearest friends from high school. Tears running down our eyes from laughter simply became the norm over the course of the evening. We talked about what has happened to each one of us in the last 30 or so years, and we talked about how grateful we are to be reconnected. We posed for silly pictures and we told each other how much each mattered.
As Dave and I travel back to Tucson, to our beautiful home and precious pups, we are so grateful for the time we spent. It’s not as though I have ever been reluctant to tell people how I feel, but after dealing with breast cancer this past year and about to have one more reconstructive surgery next month, I am not inclined to hold back my feelings of love and gratitude for those I love.
I wonder why we would ever be reserved in our feelings---perhaps fear of being vulnerable in front of others? What is the worst thing that could happen? People might not feel the same way or return the love? What, though, have we lost? A teacher with whom I once worked retired at the end of the year. At her retirement party, people clapped for her and told her how much she would be missed. After hearing their sentiments, she looked out at the crowd and said, “Why are you telling me these things now? It would have been nice to hear these sentiments while we were working together, not just when I am leaving.” While her words stung and some people expressed their disgust with her negative vibe, I wondered if there wasn’t just a shred of truth to what she said, hurtful as the delivery was. Why do we wait for retirements, goodbyes, funerals, or memorials to tell people how we feel? Why not take the time God has given us and share a loving thought, an expression of gratitude, a token of love for each and every person who touches our lives? What would it really hurt? We might just find it was exactly what the other person needed to hear. One of my dear friends who has gone through breast cancer almost alongside me makes sure she sends me a note or a picture of a sunrise at least once a week. Why? Maybe just a reminder that it is okay to tell people we care.
Just for today, maybe we can share a sentiment of love, gratitude, affection, or appreciation with family and old and new friends.
Working with new teachers is, perhaps, the best job in the entire world. I spent this week doing just that, alongside some pretty amazing colleagues. Even if you aren’t a teacher, you likely remember your first real entrance into your career. I do. My first day as a teacher of students with Emotional Disturbances in San Antonio was daunting, at best. At the end of the day, I may have been shedding a few tears that accompanied thoughts like, “How can I keep Michael and Jesse from killing each other?” “Why does Patrick roll his eyes all the time?” “How can I help my two girls in my class grow up to be happy young ladies?” After sniffling and whining for a few minutes, I decided I could complain or I could do something about my fears. By the next morning, I had bought new copies of The Indian in the Cupboard for each of my former “I hate reading” students to read, made a cupboard that would hold clues to the reading for the day, and figured out a new seating arrangement and point system that would serve to keep any homicides from happening in our classroom that year. Working with new teachers reminded me of the trepidation I felt that first year, as well as the excitement and challenges ahead. Particular poignant was the simile a brand new high school teacher made. “Teaching is like a cloud because it is pregnant with possibilities.” Wow! I also listened to a gentleman share his fear of being assaulted by a student. That same participant later said, “I may still be a little bit nervous, but I cannot wait until Tuesday to meet the students I will be building relationships with.”
Combining those two thoughts, perhaps we can remind ourselves that each day of teaching is ripe with the opportunity for relationship-building, with our students as well as with our colleagues. I’m not necessarily talking about relationships with colleagues like we have to all hug and be great friends (although, speaking from experience, that is amazing when it happens). I’m talking about the kind of relationship-building in which we truly feel like we are a community of professionals, who can’t wait to learn and grow together. I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of my own colleagues this week about why we think it “works” when we work together. We described things like: willingness to be vulnerable in front of one another, ability to laugh together, agility in team-teaching, lifting each other up instead of feeling competitive, and so many more.
What does that look like as a new teacher in a new school? One middle school teacher asked, “Do you think it’s possible for teachers to ask each other for help without looking dumb?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” and I have evidence to back up my assertion. For 7 ½ years as an elementary school principal, I worked alongside teachers who poked their heads in each other’s rooms to gain new ideas. They would host sharing sessions in their classrooms (called Thinking Thursdays, one year) in which intermediate teachers might gather in Shelley’s room to talk about how they used hula-hoops to work on Venn diagrams. Everyone would leave with a pair of hula hoops and a promise to share how they had used them in their own content area or grade level. Sharing vulnerability and a willingness to admit that I don’t have all the answers is a relatively easy concept yet sometimes quite difficult to implement. I am blessed to have some really amazing colleagues, in my work as a consultant, with whom I can share tips and techniques. Peggy has taught me new ways to phrase directions that don’t allow participants to opt out. I have learned from Dar the gift of asking more questions rather than doing so much telling. And, frankly, the participants with whom I have worked the last week have taught me so many new perspectives, I can’t wait for the next opportunity!
My hope for each one of you is that your work is like a cloud in that it is pregnant with possibilities.
Let’s keep remembering how to reclaim the joy in everything we do.