And I’m back! I have taken a hiatus this summer to focus my energies on supporting the blogs of others in my district and beyond. It has been rewarding to work with these brilliant minds, but now I am ready to return to my own thoughts. As I thought about what I wanted to write, I began to think about what drives me in the education world. For whatever reason, my mind shifted to what motivates me on a daily basis. The answer is simple: music.
I’ve played music almost my whole life. I was a drummer in several bands. I played in my school’s marching, pep, and concert bands. Music always has driven me. When coupled with my natural introversion and empathetic nature, music’s lyrics have always played a special part in my life. Life mimics art and vice versa. I “see” lyrics all around me and connect to them on many, often strange, levels. Last year at about this time, I wrote a blog piece called, The Untravelled road: The Teacher Leaders of Tomorrow. In it, I focus on one song’s lyrics and how they matched who and what I was last year. Now that I am back again to the summer with a new year about to start, I decided to make this a tradition and write another piece where lyrics take the stage.
MAKE SOME CHANGES, DAMMIT!
Teachers have a unique challenge. Every year, they must reflect and change to make sure they are better than they were in the year that has gone by. Some embrace this more than others, yet I would argue all teachers go through some change every year. If insanity is the repeating of the same actions while hoping for new results, then a teacher is forced to change in order to avoid that insanity. There are enough moments in a teacher’s life that cause insanity, why would we want to cause our own? In this spirit, I have spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how I could be a better instructional coach. I have read Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, The Heart of Coaching, Hacking Leadership, and The Innovator’s Mindset. I have read countless articles and had honest, critical conversations about my past performance. During one of those honest conversations, I was talking to a mentor, I was making excuse after excuse when she said to me, “Make some changes, dammit.”
Harsh? Yes. True? Double yes.
If I am asking my teachers to open their minds and change behaviors to better their instruction, why should I be different as a coach? I embraced this challenge and am hopeful for a better year, and I am asking anyone who reads this to identify one change that they would like to make this year. The school year is not here yet, so you have time. Think of one thing you want to improve and then make some changes, dammit.
PLEASE COME HOME
Ok, I have to admit, this song by Rise Against is kind of a love song. However, after spending a year examining school and how to improve instruction through giving a home to students, this piece was particularly striking. For almost every year of my teaching career, I was able to reach the kids who were “unreachable.” They felt safe with me. They had a home in my classroom. After transferring to a new school, I lost that ability. Like, a bubble in front of my three-year-old daughter gone. I spent a long time figuring out why, and through many conversations with students, they lamented that the school felt foreign to them. They didn’t feel home. There was no connectedness. I wasn’t making that space for them.
While I was far less than successful than I would have liked with students last year, I am optimistic this year. I want my students to feel home. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I will have an angel’s wings. But I do believe I can make a strange place feel more like home. I just need to be more intentional. Whether it is eating lunch with my students or implementing more inquiry based learning, it is doable.
Again, my challenge is yours. Find at least one student with whom you can connect. Make your space his or her safe space. Bring a home where there might not be one anywhere else.
OPEN YOUR EYES, IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE
Inevitably, as the school year kicks in, there will be talk of data, testing, best practice, etc, etc. However, should we care about these things? I get it; those over us do care about these things, but by focusing on those things, we focus on everything except the kids. Yes, data, tests, and best practices are important to some level, but are they student centered? I’d argue no. Think about this:
- If we focus on data, do we focus on the kids as kids or as numbers?
- If we focus on tests, do we focus on true education?
- If we focus on best practices, do we focus on breaking the mold and innovating for the sake of the kids instead of doing the “established norm?”
Bad Religion states that there is, at times, a hunting season for truth and reason. And while one person’s truth may not be another, I think most teachers are in the same camp. Our teacher hearts know that there is a place for tests and data and best practices. However, our teacher hearts also know that we need to break boundaries. Therefore, let’s be like Bad Religion; let’s avoid the wrong lines of sight and set things right. I challenge you to challenge the status quo. Do what is best for your kids every day. The rest will sort itself out.
I realize that this piece is, as usual, reflective and personal. However, I have tried to make my challenges yours. Let’s support each other, and if we’re lucky, our silos will crumble, our voices will rise, and the rising tide will bring all of our students and teachers afloat. Afterall, as was said by Corey Taylor of Stone Sour and Slipknot, “You don’t break ground by doing the same thing over and over. That’s like standing in place. You have to risk to gain it all.”