This year so far has been my toughest yet. I am co-teaching a combined English/US History course designed with personalized project-based learning. My teaching partner and I are building the curriculum from the ground up, and because I am in love with writing curriculum around voice and choice, I allowed my enthusiasm to cloud the reality in front of me: 1) This new (required) course would be very different from what our incoming students had experienced before, and 2) a good number of people don’t share my sentiment on change (which is more “Growth is impossible without change” than “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”).
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when there was pushback from kids and a parent or two, but I was. And it hit me. Hard.
I felt like I was standing alone in an field while a tornado slowly developed around me, and there was nowhere to go. Every time I thought the storm was nearing its end, another wave rolled in, determined to knock me down, and I almost let it. It was hard for me to hear the type of criticism I was hearing. I was hurt, confused, and felt defeated. How could people not understand?
Well, friends, they didn’t understand it because we didn’t make it clear. We thought we’d given some pretty clear information in the e-mails we’d sent home, but as I reflect back, there were a lot of steps explained in those rather than purpose explored. We looked at specifics before they grasped the big picture. And while we had sent home written communication, a meeting with the entire class last spring that we had hoped to hold slipped through the cracks as end of the year activities piled up. We didn’t suggest a parent meeting due to a pilot program in another grade level that we felt needed more attention. All the things that we KNOW are critical to the success of mindset and culture shift were pushed to the back burner as the immediate needs of planning and logistics presented themselves. What I truly understand now that I thought I knew before is that communication and relationships are the MOST immediate and necessary components for success. It wasn’t our course or teaching that failed, it was our roll-out.
This reflection for me has been so powerful. For one, looking at what we could have done differently has made it easier for me to empathize with those who have been what I like to call “less than supportive,” but even more than that, reflection has provided us with a solution. After a pretty honest conversation with the kids and a carefully-designed activity where they got to feel some pretty immediate effects of learning, failing, and growing, we’ve noticed the overall demeanor change completely in the past week. They all understand the purpose now, not because we told them, but because we allowed them to feel it and live it while we supported them along the way. Weeks of frustration and struggle were mediated in one week with parent conferences and a few tweaked lessons and conversations.
I’ve got a flame that burns bright for kids and for learning, but I was flickering at best in those few weeks. Instead of allowing myself to be vulnerable right away and using that negative feedback to help guide my way forward, I put up a wall for a minute. Even though I knew what we were doing was good for our kids, I almost let my frustration with the push-back extinguish the fire completely. I let the overwhelming wind of a few loud voices drown out the breaths of quiet positivity that, come to find out, many of our students and parents shared. And honestly, I am glad I didn’t know, because my purpose in my career is to serve ALL, not most, and I am so thankful for this experience to help me do better for every stakeholder in the future.
But none of this growth would have been possible without my teaching partner, tech directors, principal, superintendent, and countless others in my PLN who have provided guidance and support along the way. I am so fortunate to have forward-thinking leaders who truly know me and can see when I need them and then show up for me. Outside my school walls, the IMMOOC community produced blog posts that I needed to read (especially one from my PLN friend Annick Rauch), and Season 3, Episode 5 with George Couros, Katie Martin, and Dwight Carter came at the exact moment I needed it.
The three most important things I hope to share are these:
- Hear, reflect, and adapt. Notice that respond is not included there. Respond implies that you are speaking, and while communication is obviously important, words are just words until you do the changing. When you adapt for others in your actions, though, you send a louder message than any words could project.
- Reflection = solution. If you want to find solutions to the problems you face, you have to be willing to reflect — truly reflect — and take ownership for your role in the problem, yes, but more importantly, your role in the solution. It may not come right away, but eventually, you’ll move in the right direction.
- You need a community inside and outside of your building. My PLN fuels me in ways I have never been fueled before, and they all know where I’ve been. They reach out when they see me struggling and encourage me to stay strong and stay kind (Thanks, George), which are both reminders I desperately needed then.
From now on, I will direct the wind to fan my flame rather than allow it to be extinguished. I’ll hear, reflect, and adapt even as the winds come, bending with the wind so that I don’t break. And I’ll lean on the community that continues to fuel my flame and keep me ignited for kids and learning.