Returning to Ritual — Clutching the Familiar in a Year of Great Change

I get to school early. When the sun is not quite yet up. When the school doors are still locked. When the hallways are quiet. And when the school is peaceful. It is my ritual.

My coffee and I head down to my classroom. I sit. And I write. I don’t check email first, I don’t go through my mail first, and I don’t talk to other teachers first. First, I write. I write to clear my head and to center my thoughts. I write because I teach children to write and if I am not a writer myself, how can I teach them what writers do?

Today my writing is happening as a blog posts because today the thoughts feel heavier than usual and I need some place to put them down that feels more permanent than the documents I save into a giant internet cloud. Today is the first day of a school year that I hope will be different than all my other years. Today is the first day of a school year where, inspired by many I have met online, I give my classroom back over to the students. Today is the first day of a school year where I will work to take our learning outside of the walls of our classroom. Today is the first day of a school year where I will do my best to make our learning and our work more meaningful and relevant to the world. Today is the first day of a school year that will bring about a whole lot of change.

And so, amidst all this change, I find myself clinging to my morning rituals. I need to feel something a little bit familiar. And so. I write.

Here is to an incredible year of learning. For me and for my students.

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A Different Kind of First Day of School

I am going to be real honest. For the past few years, I didn’t think much about the first day of school. Some years ago, I figured out a nice little first day of school routine and since then, I have gone into school, pulled out the first day of school file folder, copied what needed to be copied, pulled together what needed to be pulled together and then waited for the kids to arrive. And then they arrived and the first day always went well. Kids had fun, supplies got labeled, learning began, community was built and the kids left fairly excited for the year ahead.

And that always seemed to be good enough.

Until now.

Because now, I am viewing the first day of school in a whole new way. Now I am seeing the first day of school as my chance to show my students what I want our year to be.  On that first day of school, I want my students to know that their voices will be heard and valued in this classroom. I want my students to know that I believe in working together to create things that are better than anything any of us could have created on our own. I want my students to know that I will not pretend to have all the answers, but that I am happy to work alongside them to figure out answers together. I want my students to know that each of them is unique and wonderful and worthy of so much good in this world. I want my students to know that they matter in this classroom, that they have a say in how our classroom community will take shape, and that I want to be the kind of teacher that they need and want me to be. And I want my students to know that they matter outside of our classroom and that their voices have power in our world and that they are capable of doing such important work.

So if that is true, if I want my students to know those things from our first day together, then I have to create first day of school experiences that show them those things. It is not enough for me to tell my students that those are the things I believe. They are not dumb. I cannot tell them one thing and then provide experiences for them that send a completely different message. My actions, from the very first day of school, must match the claims that I make of what I want our classroom to be.

And so, my file folder got thrown out.

I started over. From scratch (for the most part). I took what I wanted my students to know and I created activities for them that I believed would show them those things. And it was hard. Really hard. Not to mention, it took a lot more time than all the years where I just opened the file folder, copied, and taught. And on top of all of that, I have no idea if any of this will work. These are not things that I have done for years, so they are scary. And that is hard. I don’t love the feeling of not knowing for certain that my first day of school activities will be winners.

But I do know this. I have put more thought into these first day of school plans, than I have put into any other first day of school. I was deliberate in planning activities that matched the beliefs I have formed for our classroom. And I believe, with my whole heart, that what I am asking the students to do from day one will set the kind of tone that I hope we will carry through the entire year.

Now I don’t want to bore anyone with the details of what I have planned for the first day. So I will simply give a quick list. Please stop reading now if you have no interest in this. I don’t blame you. I am not sure that I would, if I wasn’t the one writing it.

On day one, I see each of my two fifth grade classes for half the day. We also have some specials thrown in there on the first day. The time goes so quickly and I tend to way over plan and have to move many things to day two! But here is what I have so far:

Class Meeting — This will include some welcome speech that will be both inspiring and entertaining! We will then say our good mornings, with names, while looking each other in the eye. The students will then each be asked to come up with three words to describe who they are. We will end the meeting with a favorite activity (yes, from the file folder). I will ask the kids to close their eyes. I will walk around and put one of four different stickers in the middle of their forehead. When everyone has a sticker, I will ask them to open their eyes. No matter how hard they try, they will not be able to see what sticker they each have on their head. On a side note: in all the years I have done this, no child has ever just taken off the sticker and looked at it. I find this fascinating. Anyway, the kids will then have to get into groups with the other people who have the same sticker. But they must do it WITHOUT talking. It is lovely to watch. When they find their groups, I will hand them an iPad. I will have a Padlet up on the board with the following direction: Find 10 things that all members of your group have in common. They will post their answers to the Padlet board. We will then briefly talk about how we began the class meeting by sharing three words about ourselves that make us unique and wonderful and special. Then, we worked in groups to find things that we all had in common. Because we must recognize our differences and respect those differences while also remembering that there are so many things that we share and that we have in common and that bring us together.

Lego Boat Building — The students will then go back to the spots they have chosen for themselves at their tables. At their spots will be a bag of Legos. I will tell the students that their task will be to build a boat. The boat must actually be able to float. They can test their boats out in the tubs of water that I will have set up in the classroom. I will give them some time to work. After a while I will tell them that they can now combine their Lego pieces with the other people sitting at their tables to build one, bigger and better, boat of Legos. I purposely split up the Legos so that each individual bag will only have one or two big pieces so that there is no way that the boats they build alone will be as effective as what they can build when they combine their Legos with their group members’ Legos. We will then discuss the differences that occurred when building alone versus building with their group. Lesson being, when we work together we can build better boats! Well, better boats and other better things for this world.

A Small Bit of Boring — We must deal with some supplies (at least in the morning) because I have to send them to their other classroom with certain things. I am hoping to cut this down to fifteen minutes.

What Kind of Classroom Do You Want to Be a Part Of? — Instead of providing classroom rules or even classroom expectations, I will ask students this question. In order to respect those who think best in quiet, I will give them a few minutes to jot down some ideas individually. I will give them a two-column chart. On one side it will say, “I want to be a part of a classroom where the students…” and on the other side it will say, “I want to be a part of a classroom where the teacher…” I will give them some time to think. I will then have them get into groups of four (I am thinking I will have them get back into their sticker groups from earlier). I will ask them to share and combine their lists. I will then give each group a large piece of white paper and ask each group to find a way with pictures, or with words, or with whatever else they can think of, to show the class what kind of classroom their group wants to be a part of. If there is time, I will have each group present their classroom vision and ask the class to pay attention to the things that every group mentions. We will make a chart of these things and use them the next day to create one, large classroom vision to display on the walls of our classroom.

All About Me Bags — Again, this is a leftover from the file folder. I love it, though. It gives me a chance to share who I am outside of school and then to learn about who my students are outside of school. My teaching assistant and I will both share our “All About Me” bags. They are brown paper bags that contain objects that show and tell about who we are. As another side note, this is also when I have the chance to share with my students that I am gay. I include a picture of my wife and my daughter and it is an important part for me of starting off the year with my classes. There is much more to say on that, but I will save it for another day. After we present, I give the kids the assignment to create their own bags that they will share with the class over the next few days.

Our First Class Tweet — At the end of our time together on day one, I want to introduce my students to our classroom Twitter account. I will share a few thoughts on what we might be able to do with our Twitter account and then, as a class, we will do the important work of composing our very first class Tweet.

And that’s about it.

I cannot tell you how excited I am for our first day of school. The kids finally come on Wednesday. I am nervous AND I am excited. I don’t remember feeling quite this way about a first day of school in many years. It is somewhat terrifying to try so many new things, because what is nice about old things, and what makes us hold on so tightly, is that they are comfortable. They might not do exactly what we want, but we are often willing to forgive that because they are good enough and they are almost certain to go off without a hitch. And that is really comforting. And nice. And easy. But I have to believe that when I take a few steps outside of what I know, when I am willing to go outside of the comfort zone that has actually become quite confining, I have to believe that I am going to find something better than I have ever found before. For both me and my students.

I will let you know after Wednesday!

Will It Be Enough?

I am sitting here in my classroom.  The lights in the hallways are all off, there are very few teachers in the building, the whole place is filled with the erie quiet that comes with a lack of children. My classroom looks empty.  Partly because I have yet to unpack all the things that I packed up at the end of last school year and partly because a classroom that is devoid of students will just always feel empty.

As I sit here in the quiet, I look around at the empty walls and the empty shelves and the empty chairs and I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possibility that it all holds.  There is so much that can happen in this space over the next ten months.  There is so much that has yet to be decided, yet to be uncovered, yet to be discovered. And all of that is so exciting and (as it often seems to go), so very terrifying.

This summer has been life changing for me.  As I explained in my last post, my summer has been one filled with learning. A summer where I have spent sleepless nights thinking about the kind of classroom that I want to be a part of, about the kind of teacher that I want to be, and about the kind of learning that I want to take place in our classroom.  A summer that has made me want to run back to my classroom and dig in.

And now I am here.

Now comes the hard part. Now is when I have to take all of that excitement that lived inside of my head and turn it in to action.  Now is when I have to stop thinking about the kind of classroom that I want to live in each day and start creating it instead. Now is when I have to be brave enough to leave what I know behind in favor of what I know could be better.  Now is when everything I have learned this summer has to be put into the teaching and learning that will begin in a few weeks with my students.

And I can’t help but wonder, “Will it be enough?”

Will the things that I have learned this summer and thought about this summer and wrote about this summer be enough to help me make the kind of changes that I want to make? Do I know enough to do the kinds of things that I want to do? Will the connections with other people that I have made this summer be enough to get me through a year of change and learning and growing? Will they sustain me when I feel like giving up? Am I confident enough to make changes that I do not know will bring guaranteed success? Am I strong enough to weather the setbacks and failures that are guaranteed to come with change? Will the visions in my head be enough to motivate me to make the changes that might be scary or hard?

The answer is simple: Of course not.

These things alone won’t ever be enough, because as I sit here alone, I am missing the most important factor in the success of the coming school year.

My students.

I think the reason that this all seems so scary is because there are no students sitting here with me.  They are the ones that will help me to figure it all out. They are the ones that will tell me what they need and help me to figure out how to best bring those things to them. They are the ones that will fill these classroom walls with heart and laughter and hopes and the motivation to take risks because it will make them better learners and better people.  We are in this together with them.

So yes, I can begin to envision what I want this classroom community to become.  I can think about how I want to ensure that my students feel worthy and valued and heard and important. I can get rid of my desks and bring in tables that will promote collaboration and community. I can start to plan activities that will help them to see their own strengths and follow their own passions.  But those things will never be enough without the energy, the joy, the challenge, the motivation that will walk into my classroom along with those two classes of 33 fifth graders on August, 27th.

Something Strange is Happening and It’s All Twitter’s Fault

Something very strange is happening. It is August. I have seen the back to school commercials begin. I have sent my daughter’s day care an email telling them she will be coming back next week. I have started to schedule days to go back into my classroom.

And I. Am. Excited.

That’s the strange part. For the past few years, around this time, my stomach has started to fill with dread as thoughts of the start of the school year encroach on my summer.   I lament the ending of summer and I worry about what I will face as I head back in to school.  As I think back over the past few years, I can recognize that it is never the students themselves that bring this dread upon me.  It’s everything else.  It is sitting through the meetings that sometimes infuriate me.  It is listening to the complaining of my coworkers. It is the committee work that I don’t find value in.  It is the professional development that never quite satisfies me in the way that I hope it will.  It is all the “other” stuff that comes along with what we do.  That is what fills me with dread.

So what is different this year? Why I am I not feeling those familiar pangs of dread? What has changed?

It is Twitter.  It is being connected.  It is being inspired by what I have found here.

This realization was a powerful one for me. I knew that I was enjoying my time on Twitter. I knew that I was gaining new insights from the people I connected with. I knew that I was learning from incredible teachers.  But was it really changing me? Was it really changing the way I felt about what I do? Was it really creating positive changes in my attitudes toward teaching?

Yes.

I have only been on Twitter for two months.  I have only had this blog for two months. I have only been on this journey towards being a connected educator for two months. And already I have gained so much.  So I stopped to think about the things that Twitter has given me and here is what I have come up with:

1) Inspiration — In the job we do, it is so easy to become bogged down with the details. The things that can drive us crazy. The paperwork and the bureaucracy and the negative attitudes and the negative public impression and the never enough time and the ever increasing curriculum and the new standards and the assessments and the newer standards. All of that starts to weigh so heavy on our hearts and if we aren’t careful, it can wipe away any inspiration that we used to have.  But, then you spend an hour on Twitter. And the inspiration is there in 140 character tidbits.  All of a sudden you are surrounded by positive energy and new ideas and smart questions asked by even smarter people.  All of this serves as inspiration.  All of this makes me want to run right back into my classroom and do better for my students. This is the kind of inspiration that doesn’t just make you feel good, but it makes you want to take action. It makes you want to try new things, even if you aren’t sure that they will work.  It opens up possibilities and the mere thought of there being the possibility of something better is enough to keep me coming back to Twitter.

2) Community — As I have mentioned several times in previous posts, it is so easy to become isolated in the job that we do.  We spend our days inside of our classrooms and if we are teachers who are trying to do things a bit differently than the people around us, it can be so tempting to hide ourselves away to protect ourselves, our students and our work from scrutiny and criticism.  It starts to feel as if you are alone in your thoughts and alone in your actions.  And then you spend one hour on Twitter. And you instantly see that there are literally thousands of other people who are just like you.  And they are there to support you and guide you and question you respectfully and encourage you and comfort you when you face challenges or failed attempts at greatness.  This community matters because it is much easier to try something new when you know that you have others who will have your back.  It is much easier to try something that you aren’t sure will work when you know there will be many people there to offer suggestions if it fails or celebrate if it is successful.  This community matters because it is easier to be unafraid when you know you aren’t doing things by yourself.

3) A voice — I have spoken before of how important Twitter has been in allowing me to rediscover my voice.  For several years, I have been asked to please quiet down as I spoke out against things that were being done in my district that I did not believe were best for kids. I have been spoken to by several administrators who have told me that I intimidate others when I offer my opinions and that I need to take a step back.  And for the most part, I listened and I started to believe that there was something wrong with me.  And instead of looking for better ways to share my concerns, I just stopped talking.  I sat quietly in more meetings.  I made jokes instead of making suggestions. I kept what I was doing quiet and figured that the right thing to do was to be quiet and smile more.  And then I spent one hour on Twitter. And I realized that other people were saying the same things that I have been saying.  And what I realized was that there wasn’t anything wrong with my message, it was the way that I had been choosing to deliver it that was causing the problem.  One of my biggest character flaws is that when I am frustrated or when I feel I am not being heard, I tend to just yell louder instead of speaking smarter.  What Twitter has given me is a place to flesh out my ideas, to have conversations with others about these ideas, to get feedback on these ideas so that when I share my ideas at meetings, they can be heard. I can come to the table to offer alternatives instead of just complaining about what won’t work.  This has been an incredible learning experience for me and I truly believe it will be one that will directly benefit my students as I have learned how to fight for them in a better and more effective way.  I don’t have to fight to be heard any longer, because I have been heard through the connections I have made on Twitter.  And more importantly, I have remembered that I do have something to say and that what I have to say has value and worth and I don’t have to stop talking and be quiet. I can still tell jokes AND I can also continue to speak up for what I believe is right and important.

4) Ideas — I used to think that I couldn’t use any idea that I didn’t come up with myself. I am not sure what started this ridiculous belief, but I am pretty sure that it has something to do with my own arrogance.  In general, I am not an arrogant person, but when it comes to teaching I often used to think that nobody knew my students better than I did, so no one could possibly come up with ideas that would work as well as my own ideas worked.  And then I spent on hour on Twitter.  And all of a sudden I was exposed to all of these incredible ideas that I knew would work wonders in my own classroom.  All of a sudden, I realized that people had such powerful ideas and if I continued to shut myself off from them, I would be doing my students a disservice.  So I started writing down other people’s ideas and I started thinking of ways to bring them into my own classroom.  And this list makes me so excited. This list is what is pushing me back towards my classroom and back towards this school year and back towards teaching with enthusiasm and joy.  This list is what wakes me in the middle of the night or keeps me from going to sleep in the first place. This list, that has come from Twitter, is what has already made me a better teacher.  And in creating this list, I have learned that I need to be more open to other people’s ideas because we will always be better together than we will be alone.

5) An understanding of the power of connection and collaboration — In past years, I have been pretty uninterested in using much technology in my classroom.  Unfortunately, most of the PD that we have received in regards to technology has provided us with different tools to create final products.  We have learned how to make iMovies and Keynote presentations and VoiceThreads and other pretty things.  This has never really interested me that much. Sure it was fun for the students, but really it was something the kids already knew how to do and I was happy to let them do it. But I didn’t think I needed to spend much time on it in my classroom.  What was never explained to me, until one powerful keynote presentation by @KristinZiemke, was that the real power of technology lies in its ability to connect us to others outside of the classroom and open up worlds of collaboration. After hearing Kristin speak, I thought that maybe I should check out what this Twitter stuff was all about.  And so I spent on hour on Twitter and my world changed. I immediately felt the power of connection and the power of collaboration. And I knew it was something that I had to bring to my students. And over the course of this summer, as I have learned more about what it means to be connected, I have thought of more ways to give that to my students.  If I had not experienced Twitter for myself and all the power that it holds, I would not have been authentically able to bring that to my students.

So yes, sometimes Twitter sucks away way too many hours of my day. And yes, sometimes it can feel that it is just used for self promotion. And yes, sometimes it can feel as if all we are doing is patting ourselves on the back and preaching to the choir. But I have found so much more here. This world. Twitter. It has changed me.  And now I want it, and other forms of connection and collaboration, to change my students.  So thank you Twitter world. And thank you to all of you who have worked to make this world what it is. Thank you to those who came before me and to those of you who are still here. And to those of you who are thinking that Twitter has nothing left to offer you, please realize how much your presence here still has to offer all of us.

Why do we choose to change?

Yes. Change in inevitable. We all change, whether we like it or not. Whether we realize it or not. Whether we do it intentionally or not.  But, recently, I have been thinking a lot about intentional change.  Making the choice to change something.

As a teacher, I have changed a lot. Each year, I adapt my teaching to the kids sitting in front of me. And each moment, I adapt my teaching to the one child who is sitting in front of me and what he or she needs in that moment.  Those changes are important, but those changes happen almost without me noticing or trying.

This summer, there have been other kinds of change. The kind of change that comes from a need way down deep inside of me.  At the end of the last school year, I decided that I needed to change.  Throughout my life, when I decide I need to change it is often an immediate decision and then I instantly feel compelled to make huge sweeping changes all at once. This moment in my life has been no different.  As I have said in earlier posts, I suddenly realized that I was starting to settle and I knew that my students and I deserved more. So I made the decision to change. To change a lot.

It’s been a scary summer. Learning about what is possible can be scary because it is often so far from where we currently are. The road between the two points is not a clear one, it is not a straight path, and we know, even before we begin, that it will not be an easy walk. As I start to get ready for the upcoming school year, I am terrified at the thought that I won’t be able to change in all the ways that I hope to.  My days (and the middle of my nights) are filled with thoughts of what I will do differently this coming year.

And I have started to wonder why. Why have I decided to change? What makes us, all of a sudden or over time, decide that it’s time to change and change big? What makes us willing to take the risk? For me, there are three factors that I have been able to identify that have led me to be able to change:

1) Reflection — I am a naturally pretty reflective person. I am constantly replaying my actions and words and thinking about what I could have done or said differently.  It leads to a lot of sleepless nights, but it also makes me pretty honest.  I am honest about my strengths and I am really honest about my weaknesses.  I might not want to change the things that aren’t working, but I am certainly aware that they are there. And most often I am pretty open about admitting them to others.  I also work really hard to stay reflective. Over the years, I have learned to listen to that tiny voice that we all have that tells us when things aren’t working as well as they could be.  For a long time, I ignored that voice and it brought me to some pretty ugly places. Now, I am a better listener and I am willing to honor that voice that tells me things could be better by working to make changes that will lead to improvements.  I truly believe, that most of us know when what we are doing isn’t right. It’s whether or not we choose to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves and make the changes that are necessary that makes the difference between those who are willing to work towards positive change and those who are willing to stick with the status quo.  I believe that educators need more time for reflection. Teachers need to be encouraged to reflect. Teachers need to be asked questions and they need to ask questions of themselves and of each other. Instead of simply being given new programs to use, we need to be given time to look at what our students need and think of ways that we can give those things to them. We need to be reminded of what it means to be reflective and to act on our reflections. That is what is going to start to bring about the kind of change that we need.

2) Confidence — For a long time, I did not believe that I was worthy enough. I didn’t think I was a good enough teacher or daughter or friend or sister or a million other things.  I didn’t understand that I was worthy just because I was here (I think Oprah might have been the one who told me!). Over the years, as I have worked hard to better myself, I have gained the confidence that I need in order to take risks that I don’t know will be successful.  I know that I need to change things in my classroom. I have specific goals to work on. But I have no idea whether or not I will actually be successful in achieving these goals. And that’s where I need my confidence.  I have to believe that I am good enough whether or not I meet all of my goals.  I have to believe that just because I am trying to do better, that is enough.  I have to believe that just because I am willing to struggle towards growth, that is enough. If I didn’t believe that I was good enough, I wouldn’t be able to try.  When I look at my willingness to change in this way, it helps me to better understand those who might not be ready yet to make the changes they know they need to make.  It helps me to understand that I will NOT encourage anyone to change by simply pointing out and criticizing the things that I think they are doing wrong. I have been a bit uncomfortable these past fews days as I have read more and more comments on Twitter criticizing (pretty harshly) those who aren’t doing things in the way we think that they should be doing them. I don’t believe that this harsh criticism is what is going to lead teachers to the kind of change that we are all hoping they will make. If we can make teachers feel good about themselves, help them to believe that they are powerful, and help them to believe that they have what it takes to make bold and daring changes, then we have a chance of inspiring change amongst those teachers who have been hesitant.

3) Inspiration — In order for me to be willing to change, I need to have a vision of what is possible. Often, that comes from hearing what others are doing.  I truly believe that learning from the strengths of those around me is what finally pushed me towards making big changes in my classroom.  For me, this came from Twitter and it came from reading education blogs.  I needed to read stories of what was being done, in order to help me question what I was doing.  It’s not that I want to do the exact same things that I see others doing. Instead, hearing about what others are doing provided me with the inspiration to think about what I could be doing. Too often, we get caught inside the walls of our own classrooms and we keep doing what we have always done because it is what we know. When I started to crawl outside the walls of my classroom, I saw the many possibilities that existed and it was what I needed in order to start me on this path towards change.  Again, this helps me to better understand those who are reluctant to change. I think often teachers are doing what they believe they are supposed to be doing. it’s what they know. It’s what they have been told to do. And unfortunately, much of the professional development that we receive continues to encourage us to just follow another program or read another script.  Our professional development doesn’t often inspire us with stories of what is possible. For me, that was what was missing and I have to believe that it is what is missing for others as well. It is one of the reasons that I believe so strongly in teachers getting into each others classrooms so that they can start to envision other possibilities.  It is also why I have become such a fan of Twitter (despite my moments of discomfort with the way non-connected teachers are sometimes criticized). I love that being on Twitter exposes me to so many new ideas. So many possibilities. So many avenues for inspiration.

So as I move forward with my changes, I will continue to hold on to these three things. Reflection, confidence and inspiration. For me, they are the tools that I will need to forge ahead into this somewhat uncertain year. I know that I will need other things as well, but I think if I can hold on to this, on to these three things, I might just make it out alive!

Accountability

If you have ever been on Weight Watchers (don’t worry, this post is NOT about weight loss) you know the power of being held accountable. The central idea of the weight loss program is that you are held accountable for your weight loss by attending weekly meetings where you get weighed and then discuss your progress.  It sounds awful, and mostly it is, but the thing is…it also works.  Knowing that you have shared your goal with another person. Knowing that the people who you have shared your goal with are actually going to see the progress you are making. Knowing that you will be struggling right along with a whole group of people who are wrestling with the same demons. All of that works. People lose weight.

In many ways, that is the number one reason that I started this blog.  No, not to lose weight, but to be held accountable. I have really big goals for myself for this coming school year.  I didn’t like the way that I ended this past school year.  I felt disconnected from my students. I felt like I had settled.  As I wrote about in my first post, I felt like I had gotten comfy in what I knew and I was happy just to stay there.  And I made a promise to myself that I was going to change that.  I was going to push myself to be better. I was going to push myself to do better for my students.  But the thing about a promise to yourself is that it is really easy to break.  There are relatively few consequences for breaking a promise that no one knows about.

Enter this blog.

I don’t even pretend that a whole bunch of people are going to read this blog and hold me accountable.  That’s not the point.  The point is that I am putting it out there.  I am setting my goals for anyone who happens by to see.  And by sharing my goals, I feel more accountable.  You, whoever might be reading this, have now become my Weight Watchers weekly meeting.  You know my goals. Perhaps you have struggled along similar paths. Perhaps you are even currently struggling along with me.  All of that matters.  All of that makes me feel like I am going to reach these goals, at some point in the future.

So before I end this post. I am going to spell out my goals.  I am going to list them clearly so that I can be held accountable.  I am going to make myself vulnerable by sharing goals that I am not sure how exactly I am going to meet, but I know that if and when I meet them, my students will benefit in major ways.  Here they are:

1) Give more power to my students. Trust them more. Let them teach each other. Let them learn more on their own and then teach me.

2) Bring technology into my classroom in a meaningful way. I will attempt to experiment with blogging, Twitter and Skype.

3) Connect the kids inside of my classroom to people outside of my classroom to help my students become global citizens.

4) Create more authentic learning experiences with more meaning and more purpose.  Provide authentic audiences so that my students know that they are contributing to the larger world with the work that they do.

So there they are.  I have some ideas. I am searching for more.  It is both scary and reassuring to post this list.  I look forward to encouragement, support and ideas along the way!

This is my contribution for today to the #engchat’s ongoing #100words100days challenge.

Think “AND” not “BUT”

I am a firm believer in the necessity of thinking “AND” and not “BUT.”

For example, we often say things like, “I love my students, BUT I am excited for summer.”

Instead, I try and remember to think, “I love my students, AND I am excited for summer.”

I find that when I get myself to think in terms of “AND,” it allows space for both emotions.  One emotion does not negate the other.  There is room to feel both of those things.  I don’t have to choose between loving my students and being excited for a chance to spend time with my daughter, to rejuvenate, to learn, to relax and to enjoy a slower pace of life.

So as I move forward, into this somewhat frightening next year of growing and learning, I am trying to remind myself to think in terms of “AND” and not “BUT.” Here is what I’ve got so far:

I am rejuvenated at the thought of being a better teacher AND I am terrified that I will try things and not end up any better than I am today.

I am excited at the possibilities that using more technology in the classroom will bring to my students and my teaching AND I am scared that I will just end up using technology for the sake of technology.

I believe that if I give more power and control to my students then they will learn more and become more likely to continue learning outside of my classroom AND I am fearful that if I don’t say all that I want to say then they will not learn all that they need to learn.

I want to be more authentic in the learning that we do in the classroom AND I worry that I don’t know how to make the learning as authentic as I want it to be.

I am inspired by the connections that I have been making through this blog and through Twitter AND I am anxious that I will not accomplish the things that I am telling others I want to accomplish and will thereby look like a failure.

I am motivated by setting higher standards for myself as a teacher AND I am worried that I will not meet the standards I set.

So as I go into the year, and into this summer of learning, I am going to have to remind myself that there is room for all of these emotions.  By making myself vulnerable, by allowing space for the worries and the anxieties and voices that tell me I might not be good enough, I am also leaving room for the better thoughts to be heard. Having doubts does not mean the journey is not worthwhile. Having fears does not mean that I should turn back to how things were.  I will leave space for all of it and I will not filter out the less attractive things for others to see.  Because all learning, all struggle, all growth comes with the a mix of emotions and I will be proud of anything that comes along.

Crawling Out of the Sweet Spot

You know when you wake up in the morning and you find yourself cocooned in that perfect spot with the blankets wrapped just so and the mattress formed snug around your still sleeping body? That’s what I call the sweet spot.  And it is so comfortable and so perfect-seeming and it seems so inviting to just stay right there in that sweet spot all day long.  Except the problem is, if you stayed there, then you wouldn’t know what was waiting for you outside of that bed.  You wouldn’t know what incredible things might happen just moments after crawling out of the sweet spot.  And so most of us, every day, make the decision to crawl out from the sweet spot to see what is waiting for us beyond it. 

As I teacher, I find myself balancing at that moment.  The moment where you make the decision to crawl out of the sweet spot to see what is waiting beyond it. 

I have been a teacher for eleven years.  For the past nine years, I have taught fifth grade. And this year, I had the absolute pleasure of teaching only literacy to two groups of fifth grade students.

In the past nine years, I have gotten pretty good at what I do.  I have found a way to make my classroom work for my students and for myself.  I have made children feel loved and cared about and good about themselves.  I have found ways to connect my teaching of reading and writing to the world outside of the classroom.  I have found ways to help students push themselves and push their thinking.  I have found meaning and purpose in our learning and I have helped my students to find this meaning and purpose as well. 

In other words, I have found my sweet spot.  I am good at what I do.  And it is so tempting to stay there.  To linger in the comfort.  To stay wrapped up comfortably in what I know.  To stay far away from too much risk and too much challenge.  To keep myself protected from vulnerability and the chance of failure.  It is so tempting to stay there.  To stay where I am. 

But the thing is, I know that there is more out there.  I know that if I can force myself to crawl out of the sweet spot, to feel the cold, harsh reality that is beyond what I know, then I am going to end up in a better place.  And more importantly, my students are going to end up in a better place as well. 

For the past week, I have dipped my toes in the world beyond my sweet spot.  I have bravely (from the safety of my own home) started to explore the world of Twitter. There, I have been introduced to ideas that have inspired and terrified me.  There, I have found people like Kristen Ziemke and Pernille Ripp who have shown me that there is so much more to teaching than just reading and writing.  I have found the possibility of using technology to connect our students to the world outside of our classroom so that they can grow up to be true global citizens who work to make this world a better place.  I have found that it is possible to be more excited about what I do and to help make the kids more excited about what they do each and every day that they come to school. 

And it is scary and overwhelming to realize that there is so much more that I can be doing.  And it is also thrilling and exciting and inspiring and rejuvenating. 

Because the truth is, I could probably just keep doing what I have been doing for the rest of my teaching career.  And no one would call me a bad teacher.  My students would still love me and their parents would still be grateful for the work that we did together in the classroom.  I could stay in that safe and comfortable sweet spot, but I want more.  I want more for myself and I want more for my students.  And knowing that there IS more, is a wonderful thing.

So as this school year comes to end, I find myself in a very reflective place.  I find myself hovering over that decision of whether to stay comfortably in my cocoon or to push myself out.  And I hope, with all that I have, that I can push myself out of the sweet spot into a more exciting and inspiring way of living and teaching. 

And I hope to document that journey here. In all the honesty that I can muster.  With all the vulnerability that I can manage.  And I hope that I can find others along the way who can help inspire me to keep pushing. I hope that I can connect with others who have walked this path before me and who can help to show me the way toward something better.  I hope that I can find others to support me when I consider crawling back into the world of how things were before.  I hope that I can find the needed support to do the things that I cannot even begin to imagine doing. 

So feel free to leave words of wisdom. Ideas. Advice. Warnings. All of that and anything else you can think of. Because what I know, is that I am not alone.  I know that I am not the only who has started to feel as if what I am doing just isn’t enough.  I know that I am not the only one who has started to feel as if my students deserve better. I know that there are so many of us who dream of being the kinds of teachers that we know it is possible to be, even if we aren’t quite sure how to get there.  So maybe if we work together, we can collectively crawl out of our sweet spots and face a day that is better than we, or our students, even imagined it could be.