It’s the first official day of summer vacation, so the perfect day to reflect on the year behind me.
I’ve been following a teacher on Twitter (and sometimes on his blog), @MonteSyrie. He has a mantra: “Do. Reflect. Do better.” (I don’t know if he created it, though, so apologies for any misattribution!) The thing about following Sy is that I am both inspired and alerted to my own areas for growth in ways that feel overwhelming.
I’ll start with what I feel good about:
-The biggest change for me this year has been working on my goal of advocating for LGBTQ+ kids at my school. I did a training last summer with this goal in mind, and that led, in a roundabout way, to being the adult presence for an informal (for now) group of about 10 queer kids that met once a week for 50 minutes. I’ve posted some about this, or related to this, so I won’t say a whole lot, but basically, these young people have rocked my world in the best way possible. I have no idea what will happen to the group next year, or what my role with be, but what I can take away from the experience is a sense of the true power of safe spaces, real conversation, supportive peers, and desire for justice. It felt like I was a witness to something I had no idea could even exist, which I guess says a lot about my introversion and my avoidance of groups in general up to this point. What these kids gave each other, and their vulnerability with me and each other, was pretty stunning at times. Sometimes they were completely silly, but when things were serious, there was a level of empathy and care that astonished me. I haven’t ever been part of a group like that, and as I sat there–sometimes as a part of it but mostly as a presence on the periphery, guiding when needed and answering some tough questions when needed, but mostly listening and observing–I started to wonder, week after week, whether I couldn’t create something like that for myself and fellow faculty. Which leads to my next thing I feel good about!
-I put out a really awkwardly worded call to faculty about the idea of a kind of support group, or discussion group, like a book club where you constantly talk about stuff that has nothing to do with the book. A safe place for teachers to connect with each other and talk about our school and our lives. And people responded! We have about 15 people on the list, and some weeks we have a big group and some weeks we have 4 or 5. We didn’t start until fairly close to the end of the year, so it isn’t entirely clear yet what it will look like, but it has been wonderful. We’ve talked about our hopes for the school; we’ve talked about our families; we’ve talked about who we were in middle school; we’ve reflected on our years. This is stuff that happens in my conversations with friends, of course, but what’s different about this group is that it has pulled in people who, for various reasons, are looking for something different, some kind of connection that extends beyond who we normally seek out at the lunch table or the faculty meeting. It’s not that we don’t have support or good conversation with our friends, because we do, but there’s something different about this kind of group–not better, just different. Scratches a different itch, I guess.
-I gave a presentation at a conference this year, and that felt good. I’ve been trying to use Visible Thinking routines in research projects at my school, with some success (I’d say I feel 50% good about it and 50% like I wish I had done more), and it was fun to give a talk about that at the AISL conference. I was nervous as hell about it, but it went well and was maybe a bit of a confidence booster.
Things I want to do better:
Oh man, there are so many. But I’ll try to just pick the most important ones!
-We are going to try to be a ProjectLIT chapter this year, and I’m hoping that will spark me to do a better job with reading classes and with promoting books. Our kids read a lot without me pushing it, but the ProjectLIT books are really a chance to do several things: diversify their reading selections; connect with them over books; get them excited about the possibilities out there. So, while this year I dropped the ball pretty horribly when it came to promoting Virginia Readers Choice titles, I’m hoping that next year will be better. I struggle with the fact that I no longer see kids on a regular schedule in the way I used to, and I really really REALLY need to let that go and just go 100% with the classes I do see and not worry about the fact that some kids won’t have that lesson or booktalk. I get too caught up in trying to make it “worth my while” to prep a lesson, as if giving it to half the sections in the grade isn’t worthwhile. Which is lazy thinking and excuse-making on my part. I know this, and I too often let myself get away with it.
-I want to be a better manager. My co-workers might read this, so I don’t want to be too awkwardly open here, but I have various weaknesses that I am highly aware of and working on. They know of what I speak, I’m sure!
-I want to find some daily things to do that will help kids connect with the library and the librarians. If you followed the link to Monte Syrie above, you can see he has a daily message on his whiteboard. I think I want to try something that next year–our own version of it in the library. I’ve noticed that there’s something really magical about early mornings in the library, because there is a group of kids who always come before school, and they have their rituals around when they arrive and what they do and who they hang out with. The rhythm of it is one of my favorite things about every day, and I’m wondering how to extend that kind of rhythm throughout the day. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s a goal.
-I want to challenge myself more, across the board. I want to stop letting fear and inertia get in the way of making amazing things happen in the library. I want to stop being complacent with the way things are–which is pretty good, but could always be better. It’s easy to be happy with our program because we have a good program, but I’d be lying if I said we couldn’t do more (or at least I can do more).
-I want to learn more about behavior management, and find a system that works for all of us in the library. We have different approaches, and one of my goals for the summer is to do some reading and try to find something that has strong research support but also feels good to all of us. I never took a class in classroom management or discipline, and it really shows sometimes! It’s a definite area where I can learn and grow. (I tend to be too easygoing, and I want to maintain that to a large extent because it’s who I am, but also improve at providing loving boundaries before things descend into chaos.)
Alright, that sounds like the bad far outweighs the good, but it was actually a really good year. I think so much of what I love is the stuff that doesn’t make it into a reflection post–the little interactions, conversations, insightful comments made in a class, a kid asking a question that takes the discussion to a level you could never have anticipated, a kid making you laugh in spite of yourself.
What I most take away from this year is that I feel more connected than I ever have–with kids, with fellow faculty, and I guess with myself as well. I want to work to continue on that path. Connection brings new perspectives and ideas and awareness, and that’s what education is all about.