One Day as a Heinemann Fellow

I am exhausted. This day exhausted me. But I feel like if I don’t get something down tonight, before some much needed sleep, I will regret it in the morning.  I worry that these thoughts and feelings might be fleeting because things this powerful do not usually stay around for very long.  

Today was a day of learning.  Yes, learning from experts at Heinemann, but also learning from each other.  Learning from a group of incredibly passionate, extremely bright, unbelievably talented educators.  It has been such a delight to be engaged in discussion with people who care so deeply about education and who do not believe that they know it all already.  Who believe that we can do better.  Who believe that our kids deserve the best we can give them and it is our responsibility to keep learning and growing and reaching until we get there.  And then once we are there, this group of people knows that there will be even higher heights to reach and further places to take our students.  These are the kinds of conversations that we had today. This is why my head is so full of thoughts and ideas and inspiration.  

Much of our work today centered around creating action research questions that will begin our journeys along a two-year path of study.  Each one of us will be choosing one research question and doing research in our own classrooms, schools and districts with the goal being that we will create new knowledge.  We will create something better for our students, for us, and for our colleagues.  

It was a real struggle for me to do this kind of work without knowing exactly how it was all going to work out.  It is hard for me to start to do something when I cannot visualize exactly what the process is going to look like. But I guess that is part of the learning.  We don’t know what it is going to look like because so much of our work will be guided by our students.  We can’t have it all figured out yet or else there would be no purpose in our investigation.  We don’t know how things will turn out and that is terrifying and that is also what makes this work so important and so exciting. What we know is when we come to the end, we will know something that we didn’t know before.  We will have knowledge that will allow us (and maybe even those who come along with us on the journey) to be better educators and better teachers of children.  And that is exciting.  

Throughout the day, I was able to connect with the 9 other Heinemann Fellows.  The connections, the understandings, the shared experiences were so powerful.  It was incredible to listen to the things that these other educators had to say.  It was so powerful to be pushed by these people, to be made stronger by our connections, and to hear that we are not alone in our quest to give our students the education that they deserve.  

What struck me the most today is that throughout all of the work that we did, I didn’t once hear any complaining.  I didn’t once hear anyone mention what kids COULDN’T do.  I didn’t once hear anyone list reasons why doing better wasn’t possible for them or that there were just too many things standing in their way. I didn’t once hear anyone blame the political climate for all the things that we aren’t happy with in our classrooms. These are the things that often bog us down.  These are the things that often stop us from making progress.  These are the things that often end up wasting incredible learning opportunities.  Too often we get so wrapped up in lamenting all that is wrong with education today and we never stop to think about how we might begin to change some of that.  

That just isn’t what happened today.  And it was. so. refreshing.  It was so incredible to feel the power of so much positive thinking.  Today our biggest struggles were with narrowing down what it was we wanted to make better.  Our biggest challenge was selecting from a myriad of passions to find the one that would make the best action research question.  Our biggest hurdle today was knowing which words to use to express the learning that we wanted to do.  Those are not bad problems to have.  Those are a joy to wrestle with.  

So at the end of the day, the research question that I have settled on is this: What are the most effective means for students to develop their own goals and independently work towards meeting those goals in a reading and writing workshop?

I am thrilled at having this focus for the coming school year. It goes right along with my quest to give more power to my students in the classroom and in our learning. It makes me excited to get back to school in the Fall so that I can begin to investigate this question.  I know that any answers, or steps towards answers, that I might discover are going to make my students better readers, writers, thinkers and learners.  And I am so excited to know that as I travel this journey, I will have the incredible support of the people who I have only just gotten to know, but whose hearts and minds I believe I already understand.  

I don’t know how to express my gratitude for this experience.  It is the most perfect opportunity that came along at the most perfect time.  And I very much look forward to seeing where it will lead me.  

Heinemann Fellows Work Begins

I have been so caught up in the huge amount of support for my last blog post, that I forgot to mention that I am officially in New Hampshire.  Sitting in my hotel room. About to head off to our first event with the Heinemann Fellows.  As I wrote about earlier, there is certainly a mix of emotions as I get ready to begin our work.  And overwhelmingly, at this particular moment, I am just excited.  Excited to learn from these people, to be inspired by these people, to be surrounded by passion that drives us to better ourselves as teachers and as people.  

I am also incredibly excited to share the learning and growing that I will do over the next few days with anyone who might happen to read the upcoming posts.  I know that when I look back at these posts later, I will see evidence of how far I will have come.  Because right now, in this moment, I know that I can do so much more and I believe that being a part of the Heinemann Fellows will help me to begin to do that.  

So here I go, off to our very first event! 

Things that Scare Us

Someone very wise (okay, it was my therapist) once told me that the feeling of fear was never meant to signal to us that we should stop doing the thing that brought on the emotion. Rather, the feeling of fear is a signal to our souls that we are treading somewhere new or uncertain and we had better bulk up on the courage and proceed forward boldly.  I am trying to remember those words as I embark on an incredibly exciting new opportunity. 

On Tuesday, I will make my way to New Hampshire to begin my work as one of ten educators from across the country that make up the inaugural group of Heinemann Fellows.  As a Heinemann Fellow, I will have the opportunity to learn from other educators and also take part in an action research project in my own classroom.  The benefits to me and my students will be huge and I am excited to begin the journey that is ahead.  

AND at the same time, I am terrified.  Every day I wonder if I have what it takes to hold my own with the group of educators that I will be a part of.  Yes, I am passionate about what I do.  Yes, I work hard to do the best that I can for my students. But there are so many things that I am not. And because I am me (and come from a long line of self-doubters) I worry that what I have to offer will not be enough.  

Really, what it is, is the fear.  The fear makes me think that maybe I made the wrong choice. The fear makes me question, “What did I get myself into?” The fear makes me doubt that I will belong with this group of educators.  

And that is when the wise words come back to me. “The feeling of fear was never meant to signal to us that we should stop doing the thing that brought on the emotion. Rather, the feeling of fear is a signal to our souls that we are treading somewhere new or uncertain and we had better bulk up on the courage and proceed forward boldly.”

Because what I know is this, if we never did the things that scared us, we would never grow.  We would never experience new things. We would never know how much better we could be.  And so we have to proceed forward boldIy in the face of the things that scare us. And so, I will move boldly toward this new opportunity and eagerly accept the challenges that come with it because I am thrilled by the chance that I have been given to learn and grow with other educators. I am giddy with excitement about the connections that I will be able to make with other teachers and school leaders.  I have been craving these connections this past year and this opportunity will bring so many rich connections my way.  So as I begin my work with this incredible group, I will wrap all of those things up and carry them with me.  And I will proceed forward boldly.