Slightly Awkward: Slice of Life #17

How do we have those conversations with other teachers where the gist is basically this: There is some work involved.

And yes, you have to do it. 

It’s kind of awkward.

We all start from the same place. The same amount of time in a day. Our differences are sometimes vast and sometimes slight in these areas: experience, education, knowledge, time management, access to money, access to help, willingness to stick to or stray from a reasonable work day schedule.

Then there is the stuff some might call political. We get fired up about this and we should. Teachers should not have to spend their own money. A teacher’s workday can be endless. There needs to be some limits. There isn’t enough prep time. New teachers don’t get enough support. We need more time and structures to talk to and learn from each other.

But we can’t just dwell there. We all put time in beyond the teaching day. It’s impossible to do this job without that. And, of course, a full day is beyond those 9-3 hours. So, maybe we could start there. Can you sometimes dip into your planning, marking, communicating time and invest in some thinking and action that will result in changes to your classroom? Positive, healthy, inspiring changes. Changes that maybe, in the end, make things easier and better for everyone?

This isn’t coming from a place of judgement. It’s just what it is. We need to make changes to make our practice meaningful. The children we work with everyday need us to invest in our own learning to make things better for their learning. We need to acknowledge that there is always more to learn.

Yet. . . often when we talk about shifting practice, the response begins with “I can’t . . . ”

I am in the middle of prep for a presentation where part of the message is starting with change in ourselves. Change that will take time and effort. Effort over time. I am anticipating the “I can’t. . .” I am thinking about how to be convincing, about persuasive arguments and hard to dispute evidence.

When we make shifts, it is about turning on our own axis and really looking at something from a different perspective. It’s not about easy: a boxed program, an on-line lesson or a step by step guide without individuality. It’s about a little bit of information, some important evidence, a compelling example or two (or twelve) and a lot of individuality.

It’s in the individuality where the work comes in. We need to be responsive. Let things be organic to a certain degree. Embark on change knowing that watching our students respond might mean we need to tweak this and change that and sometimes begin some things again and again.

I think back to unpacking in my new classroom last summer. Everything had to be done to create a learning space that would be a fit for my students. I was sourcing furniture, organizing shelves and setting up during most of the break. I had it all figured out about ten times and it still took forever. Kids arrived. It shifted again. I am still moving tables. Clearing counters. Rethinking everything. I have it all together often. For about 10 seconds.

When I learn something new, I celebrate and I sigh because it means, yet again, changes ahead. I love being this old and comfortable with not having it all perfect. I embrace the work.

I hope I can share with others what I am thinking and gently nudge them towards their own work.

It’s always work.

Telling people so shouldn’t be awkward.

So why does half of my planning time seem to be about making the message more gentle?

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

16 thoughts on “Slightly Awkward: Slice of Life #17

  1. Oh my gosh! This is me: “Rethinking everything. I have it all together often. For about 10 seconds.” No matter how long I teach I am constantly rethinking everything. That for me is what makes it interesting. Good luck on your presentation. I’m sure the spirit you will bring to it will be inspirational.

  2. Your piece is about teacher agency and leadership. If you stick to how things have always been there is no change. Strong values, attitude, and commitment push change forward. Don’t be afraid to be passionate and loud about your values.To help others change starting with the strongest resisters might be painful, start rather with the ones who are ready. Increasing the number of like minded people will eventually reach the tipping point and many will follow. I hope.

  3. I really related to this piece especially the part about trying to make the message gentler. When I left the classroom, it was a hard realization that not everyone had the same work ethic or outlook.

  4. I love the line about being old and comfortable with not having it all together. I think somewhere in my mind I thought one day I would “arrive” and have it all perfectly work but that’s not the nature of teaching and learning, as you so wisely share here. It’s messy and it is hard work. Investing in our own learning and growth is vital, especially now as technology changes things each day. I agree with you the message is awkward to share. I’m often told “I don’t know how you do it” or “I don’t know where you find the time” and there is never a good answer to that question. It feels almost accusatory- like there is no time to do the things you are doing so what balls are you dropping? Being a writer/blogger is important in my life and I believe it has made me a better teacher who creates more opportunities for my students to write, so I make time for it. Learning new ways to share and create using tech tools brings a lot of excitement to my teaching and to my students’ experience, so I make time for it. There are many things I don’t get to in a day that I should and I’m working on that- essays I should have finished grading were put aside this morning so I could blog and then read and respond to other educator bloggers. But that’s what fills my teaching soul. I think we can only tell our own stories- you can share how putting in the work has made a difference and why. Some will take the spark and it will ignite something in them and others just won’t. Not everyone comes to teaching with the same passion or the same work ethic. In the end, we can’t make anyone change who doesn’t want to change, but hopefully at least a few will take in the message and make positive shifts.Their students will be all the better for it.

  5. Oh, I love so many words in this post. “I have it all together often. For about 10 seconds.
    When I learn something new, I celebrate and I sigh because it means, yet again, changes ahead. I love being this old and comfortable with not having it all perfect. I embrace the work.”
    Your presentation will speak to many because of your thoughtful and gentle approach to the learning that we are always engaged in. I wish I could be in the audience!

  6. Carrie,
    This is sooooo true. . . “So why does half of my planning time seem to be about making the message more gentle?”

    And yet in being gentle, what happens when they totally miss the message? I struggle with that. I want to just say. “Is what you are currently doing REALLY working? Show me the data. Show me the evidence. If not, you have to change. Continuing to do what you have always done and expecting different results is INSANITY!” (But I don’t!)

  7. Wise words have been written above, and perhaps you can hope that those who are ready will add to your thoughts, and help you push on the rest of the group? When I coached, I found even in our rather small staff that the layers of expertise and willingness to try something new varied. I found that offering my own “varied” approaches gave choice, just as we like doing for our students.Then the teachers didn’t feel hemmed into something that didn’t feel good to them. I hear that you think it’s tricky, and I agree. Those who dig in may see later that they’re being left behind, and then jump in. Best wishes, Carrie. I see that “ten seconds” line is applauded, & rightly so. Every year, even within the year, changes happen from thoughtful teachers, and thoughtful students, too. Thanks for a rich post!

  8. Well said, Carrie! Such a rich, wisdom-filled post. So many of your words resonate with me; I especially like: “When I learn something new, I celebrate and I sigh.” “Change” is my life as a provider of professional development. I usually begin a PD workshop with something about “change” because I firmly believe that all PD is about change and if we don’t take that mindset it is a waste of time and money. I’m tweeting your post so more teachers can read it.

  9. Teaching is not for the fainthearted. To be an effective teacher, one needs to always be learning, studying, searching for just the right approach for this year’s group of children. A teacher knows that this approach may not work for next year’s class. Some get it, and some just wish you’d go away so they can do what they’ve always done. It’s hard to get some on board with a change. Good luck!

  10. Focus on the students – if your message always is about students it is much easier. We have yet to me a teacher who doesn’t care – deeply care- about students. If you start there … they will follow. Listen. Validate. Go back to the kids. They will follow, in their own time and on their own path. But they will follow, I promise.

  11. This is a VERY important message! I remember a recent conversation with a teacher about how to collect text sets and have multiple copies of books so groups can form book clubs according to level, interest, need, etc. Our city library does a great job doing that for us – you just have to put some extra time in at the beginning choosing the right titles two weeks beforehand, submitting the request, picking up the books, and putting the kids into groups accordingly. The teacher responded, “But that takes a lot of time and work….” Hmmmm. Right! I could tell she wasn’t willing to take that time. It’s our kids who benefit from our hard work, or sadly, on the other hand, suffer because of the lack of trying, learning, and growing. I hope your message is loud and clear! I understand you have to make it gentle, or it will turn listeners off, but it can be direct and convicting. No doubt you will inspire people! Who wouldn’t want to be the kind of teacher you are?! 🙂

  12. So many teachers need to read this post…but most of them don’t write or belong in a community such as this, that supports teachers. We did instructional rounds this week for the first time and the lack of acceptance and buy-in just amazes me. Why wouldn’t teachers want to improve their teaching practices and learning in their classrooms? If we could only create our own faculty….

  13. One thought I have about this is that we are all more willing to put in the time and work when it’s something we are excited about. There are innovations and experiences I have NOT focused on because they haven’t ignited my enthusiasm, there are the things I’ve spearheaded with gusto because I really believe in them–and then there are things I’ve backed up my colleagues on without being the leader, because I know it’s a good thing but I am focusing my energy somewhere else.

    Another point is that we do all budget our time and energy differently. I know a couple of teachers who astound me with the energy they put into everything they do, and I really do believe they need less sleep and less down time than I do. Then again, I think I put more time into my work when I was single, and I expect that I’ll be spending more time on my work when my kids are grown.

    I also think some people enjoy innovating and trying new things, while others are really uncomfortable with those concepts. That seems to be a personality trait. I’m a big fan of “Let’s try it!” myself.

  14. I would love to listen to you speak on this topic. I think your planning to soften the message is because you care so much — about the students and the teachers and the families. Gentle touches our hearts. Stories allow us to see. Questions make us ponder. All can be gentle, but all need to push our thinking, to nudge us to question and wonder. You can do this hard work with a gentle touch.

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