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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Reflecting on the year's struggles and strengths

At the end of the school year before I can begin summer fun and study, I need to reflect on the year's struggles and strengths.

There were many strengths this year, strengths that resulted in good scores, lots of learning, and many special learning events.

At the end of the year, we surveyed students' opinions about our many field trips and experiences and there was lots of positivity about the many events we fostered. Students' big projects were exceptional this year and we fit in lots and lots of learning expectations and experiences. Overall it was a very positive year of teaching and learning. I continue to appreciate our team approach to teaching all fifth graders and believe we all profit from this collaboration, collaboration which also serves to mentor students' ability to team and work together

As expected the year also included struggles--one fact about teaching is that there's always more to learn and get better at. The learning curve is a constant.

I typically dissect struggle into all of its little pieces and find some peace in the matter before moving on.

I look for the promise in problems.

As I think deeply about the struggles in the past year, I am reminded of the lessons learned:
  • Never blame students or families for their circumstances, instead always work to support them in every way possible. 
  • Educate rather than blame.
  • As soon as a problem begins to surface, deal with it--don't let problems fester.
  • Even when afraid of backlash, speak up in the face of injustice and speak up sooner than later.
  • Working collaboratively typically solves problems better than going it alone.
  • Listen to all perspectives and understand where people are coming from with regard to their experiences, desires, goals, and capacity.
  • Give people space and support to do the good work they are capable of.
I am fortunate to work with dedicated, creative, and intelligent people who serve children well every day. They go well beyond the call of duty with the hours they work, the money they spend, and the learning they do to serve children well. I am fortunate to work with such a dedicated team at the grade level, school, district, and state. 

Education is a field of limitless opportunities to work better to serve well--we never run out of ways that we can better teach and serve children and their families. Limitations of time, good process, and apt structures sometimes gets in the way of this potential, however with our good work and collaboration we can overcome many of these obstacles. 

Now it's time to clean the classroom and prepare for summer study, rest, family, and fun. Onward. 

Burying problems results in destruction

It's not good to bury problems--it's better to deal with those problems sooner than later. Typically problems don't occur from one event, decision, individual, or set of circumstances, but instead problems are usually the combination of a mix of people, events, decisions, and circumstances. Problems that are not dealt with, occur again and again while problems that are dissected and resolved are not as apt to reoccur.

As educators we teach our students how to be good problem solvers--how to honestly and carefully face problems and resolve conflicts.

As I think of this today, I am thinking of apt process for problem solving and good channels of resolve.

Typically when children have problems at school, I listen to them. I help them resolve the conflicts on their own as much as possible since usually the resolve lies within them or with their collaboration with one another. I also try to help out in ways that I can too if there's a classroom policy, protocol, arrangement, or effort that feeds the problem.

The Challenge of Apt Advocacy

Early in my career during a hurtful experience, I became familiar with the adage, "a bull in the china shop. " The experience occurred when I worked in an architectural firm. One of my co-workers was a genteel man who took his work very seriously. I was a somewhat clumsy, talkative, naive young woman who was working in a professional office for the first time. I literally was a "bull in the china shop" due to my clumsy nature, inexperience, and loquaciousness. I was hurt when the man uttered the statement in an act of frustration, but I knew it to be true.

Fortunately I worked with a kind and caring crowd at the architectural firm, rather than chiding me for my ways they carefully mentored me and led me in ways that used my strengths and redirected my challenges. It was a very positive work experience, one which I carry forth into my teaching to this day still.

Yet recently the "bull in the china shop" phrase came back to me as I tried to navigate a delicate issue that required advocacy. The issue struck me like a knife. I was hurt, I was frustrated. I needed to speak up and act against this seemingly harsh and disrespectful event. What was I to do?

I started by contacting those in charge. I expected the situation would be remedied right away, but that did not happen. I used my own voice to speak up which created some change, but not the depth of change I desired or thought appropriate, and my words unexpectedly incited some anger too. I spoke up to others in charge, who also spoke up, but rather than the positive change desired, the issue seemed to grow larger and more uncomfortable and the "bull in the china shop" affect arose as crashes and clashes of hurt feelings, anger, finger pointing, and gossip occurred.

This kind of event seems to be a mainstay in the news today as multiple bodies of people try to solve problems big and small all over the globe which makes me wonder about the best protocols, process, and policies one may use to solve these problems.

As I think of this situation, I am reminded that when I first heard rumblings related to the issue, I feared speaking up because I feared a backlash, yet the backlash happened anyways and perhaps if I had spoken up earlier than later, the resulting cascade of emotion, time, and hurt would not have occurred. This is why it is so important to welcome feedback good and bad earlier than later--the more open we are to sharing our ideas, inviting critique, and working with others, the less likely there will be difficult responses and results to efforts embedded into our work.

For example, I want to re-look at how we schedule our collective time-on-task with students. I feel that we may lose capacity with some of our current scheduling processes--processes that were once a giant step forward from old ways of teaching and learning, but scheduling that I believe is now ready for another remake. I've proposed some ideas, but I know that I don't have the perspective or knowledge of all members of the collective service team, members that include special educators, therapists, English Learner (EL) teachers, guidance counselors, teaching assistants, and more. The only way we can move forward is to listen to everyone's perspectives and to think and work together with the common goal of helping every child learn in the best possible positive and productive ways.

So looking back at advocacy that resulted in challenge, I'm wondering what could have happened differently in this case--how could I have met the painful surprise with better words and acts to promote positive change in a timely manner.

This summer I'll be taking a course on this topic. I look forward to learning a lot and building my ability to advocate in ways that result in peaceful, promising success. Onward.