Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why?

     That was my favorite word as a kid: Why? I remember having an insatiable curiosity and deep desire to know. To know information. To know why people did what they did. To know why society was the way it was. I just wanted to know. Fast forward some years and my oldest picked up where I left off. Seriously, had he asked another "Why?" question I may have not had an oldest. Looking back on that time and seeing the person he has become, I see that innate curiosity still at work in him, still making him question.
      Sometimes we ask ourselves the Why? question. Tonight at a book study with fellow educators, that Why? query was raised. "Why would I blog?" asked one teacher, "I have nothing to say. Or nothing important." Hmmmm, my mind whirred, pushing out it's own question--Why do I blog and what do I have to say?
      I finally have an answer. I blog because I love to write. It's a freeing way for me to express myself. A way that comes more easily to me than being verbally articulate. Ask any of my colleagues and they'll nod in agreement. I stammer and stutter out my thoughts in a staccato style, failing most times to coherently string together the words needed for a cohesive thought. But give me a keyboard and the words don't fail me. Instead they overwhelm me. I write blogs because I selfishly want to write.
       Usually, I don't have much to say. I ramble or rant about what I'm most passionate about and that's teaching and kids--not necessarily in that order. Blogging is a way for me to find an audience for my thoughts, a platform to pronounce my ideas, a venue for hashing out ideas, a place to admit failures and celebrate victories. A blog, I guess, is more for me than anyone else. It's my release.
     During our discussion about blogging teachers, one person commented about putting words out there that stay out there. How scary that is. How blogging involves taking a risk. How blogging could represent rejection.
     Honestly? I've never thought about what others think of this reflective work. Given the small audience this blog hits, I don't think I've much to worry me about appearing weird to my readers. That said, I believe it to be imperative that we educators do blog, or communicate our ideas in some manner. I find this vehicle to be challenging. If I write it, do I live it? If I write it, do I believe it? If I write it, to I implement it?  Words are plentiful, but actions...not so much.
     So why do I write this blog? Perhaps I see it as a challenge. If I'm so passionate about something, do I put my actions where my keystrokes are? Am I willing to share failures as well as successes? Am I willing to try being innovative, and sharing the experience in an uncut version?
      Blogging is a learning tool, for me. It forces me to really think about what I believe and why I believe it. I may not be consistent as a blogger, or eloquent, or insightful, or profound when I write. I just chronicle my teaching journey, one post at a time, and think about what I do and why I do it.
      I still ask myself and others the Why? question. And for me, it has made all the difference.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Opportunities


      Summer vacation. Two words sure to elicit a sigh from every teacher I know. Seriously, by the end of the school year everyone needs a break, not just the students. Summer vacation. Two words that fill me with anticipation, not only for the fun opportunities it offers but for the time to recharge myself professionally. Summer vacation. Two words that help recenter teachers, especially after a difficult year. For me, this break from the classroom is more a break from students. It's a time for me to consider new ideas and look for ways to improve as a teacher.
      My advice to my first-year teacher niece was to take the first weeks off and not really think about school until August. Decompress and refuel yourself. As a first grade teacher, one in a looping school, she has enough to handle during the school year and constantly gives out. She needs to spend time relaxing before entering the fray again. My advice to myself has always been about the same. When August comes, get into school mode.
     This year, as in other years, my summer is filled with opportunities. I'm in a book study reading George Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset. Last night, our first meeting, was filled with quality discussion about what it means to be innovative in the classroom and how to encourage colleagues to utilize this type of mindset more in their approach to students and learning. It was good. It made me think. And whenever I think in professional settings, I always get new ideas of things I can try in my classroom.
      Another opportunity for growth I'm taking advantage of is a three-day writing seminar offered by the local Writing Project group. I took a similar session a few years back and those days improved how I taught personal narratives. I'm looking forward to the same happening. Again, in these settings I never fail to be inspired with new ideas to experiment with in the classroom.
      Then in the end of July another summer growth challenge faces me with the English teachers' conference. This year Meenoo Rami, author of the book Thrive 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, will be the keynote. I've interacted a bit with Rami setting up some promotional events and find her to be a thoughtful person whom I'm looking forward to learning from professionally. However, this conference also gives practical ideas for new approaches to use in the classroom. I've attended this event for the past three years and it never fails to inspire me. We've had James Burke, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher as speakers the years I've gone. How could a person not be inspired? These conferences and speakers have transformed my approach to the classroom.
       Summer vacation. Two words that promise a break from the classroom but so much more than that. It's a time I can renew myself professionally, learn some things, and take some time out to have a little fun. It doesn't take much to get you thinking. So this summer vacation my advice to myself is simple: enjoy the down time but use it to ruminate some, thinking about new approaches to the classroom. Summer vacation = summer opportunities. They can make all the difference.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What Week

     It's my What Week. You know, that time of year when things are winding down and we begin to think forward to the next school year? It's my time to question myself: What will I do differently? What worked? What do I need to be more consistent in doing? What do I need to abandon? What week for me is a time of introspection and reflection, of recognizing fly highs and flops, of readjusting and reconsidering what I do in the classroom. What Week (WW) forces me to rethink the past so I can shape the future.
     I may be an anomaly, with my WW. Colleagues are frenetically finishing finals and figuring out grades. I'm doing the same but I'm also considering the future. Looking ahead to next year as I reevaluate the past. And honestly, I'm not all that crazy about what I see in the rear view mirror.
      Some things I tried worked better than anticipated while others fizzled like a dud firecracker. Some things I did a good job of following through and forging through groans while others withered under those protests. Honestly evaluating, I'd say there seemed to be more withering than normal. But maybe it's just me.
     The act of reflection as a teacher, in my opinion, is just as vital as preparing lesson plans. If not more so. Unless I evaluate what I've done and why I've approached things as I have, neither my students nor I will learn anything. Reflection is like a balm for my soul. It allows me to consider my strategies and my motives behind my strategies--know what I did and why I did it.
      What Week usually morphs into What If? at the end of the week. Knowing what worked and what didn't usually leads to new ideas. Talking to coworkers and reading professional books all stimulate new ideas. Twitter chats are over, so I look to new sources for inspiration. I know some teachers are looking forward to being done and relaxing in the summer, as do I, but there's something about thinking about the past year and getting excited for the next one to come.
     Some may think I'm crazy, but I'll continue my practice of What Week and What If? reflections during the last week of school. It prepares me to launch into the summer months and let ideas simmer, readying me for August when I start back into the throes of classroom planning.
    What Week works for me. It makes all the difference.