Restarting the Habit (I hope…)

Ever since Tim introduced me to Instapaper, I’ve done a pretty good job of saving pieces that I want to share here (as much for sharing as for pushing me to reflect more deeply on them). My Instapaper now has A LOT of pieces waiting for me to share them. This school year has been the most challenging of my career. If you’re a teacher in your first few years or a preservice teacher, I promise it does get easier. Somehow it just got a lot harder for me in my 22nd year of teaching. There are many reasons for that and, in spite of it all, I love my job, my school, my students, their families, my colleagues. One of the benefits of a tough year this many years in is that I have faith it is survivable. If I’d had a year like this early on, I may not have continued in the profession.

All of that is to say that I’ve done a bad job of writing regularly this year. It is one of a number of things that has fallen by the wayside. I will note that I’ve been writing more than is clear here as I am working on my book, which is due next January. That may be another factor in the writing here happening less frequently.

from Katy Tresseder’s flickr

Luckily, others keep writing. Starting with the pieces I’ve read most recently and working my way backwards…

In Be God, Bee God, Doyle has done the kind of writing he does so exceptionally well. He has brought together the natural world and our human failings. His big message meshed so well with the Encienda (Ignite) talk I shared at EduCon not long ago. We do not do a good job, or even an adequate job, of caring for all of the children in our society. I would quote a part of Doyle’s piece, but pulling anything out of context seems like it ruins the crafting he has done. Go and read it.

The word DATA can still cause me to cringe or flinch a little given how it is so often used in education. Thankfully Science Goddess has helped me see data through a different lens. The data stories she has been telling in her district have astounded me and this newest one is no exception. I’d posit that she really has outdone herself on this one. Her post gives just a taste of the extensive thinking she does about what data to use and how best to represent it in a way that will help people understand it better. This is just a bit:

I pulled longitudinal (grades K – 12) data for current seniors who have only ever attended a school in our district. There were 175 of them (out of ~600). I wrestled with which data sources to use for quite awhile. Part of the challenge is that 13 years is a lot of opportunity for data systems and data collection to change. In the end, I was able to gather attendance, discipline, health room visits, enrollment in special education or the free/reduced lunch program, and performance on state assessments.

I’m sorry I live on the opposite coast, near the wrong Washington, to get to see these data stories in person. But I greatly appreciate that she continues to share them so generously.

Not long ago I got to wish Jose happy birthday in person when we were both in Philly for EduCon. It’s always a treat to see Jose, but not a frequent one, so I look forward to his writing. This piece, On Showing Up as Our (In)Authentic Selves, came out of his EduCon experience. The theme of the conference this year was Authenticity. Like Jose, although for very different reasons, I’ve been struggling when thinking about this idea and how authentically I live in various spaces, especially professionally. I am grateful to Jose for thinking through this publicly and letting us all in. There’s a lot more than this quote, so go read, but this one felt like something of a gut punch for me.

I had to stop being me so I could understand what “me” meant to everyone else. This makes me a lot more like my middle schoolers than I originally thought.

I think this next post hit me because of all the things I said at the beginning of this post. I think this is One of Those Years for me. Maybe the king of One of Those Years. I’m not quite ready to share the bulleted list of reasons the way Doug did, but I definitely felt a connection to this piece. I could almost have written this paragraph just as it is.

I’ve noticed that I just feel off this year. I still don’t have my feet under me and it’s basically February, which probably means I’m not going to get them under me. My class is great, my kids are working hard. We’ve done cool things and I’m doing my job well (except the last three weeks which were a garbage fire of no one’s doing). But it’s just not right.

Like Jose, I appreciate that Doug wrote this and shared it publicly. It helps to see others who are struggling, thinking, reflecting, facing challenges, just as we are.

Several years ago I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and it was one of those books that really hit me. I don’t think I thought about it as deeply as Katie did, however. Thank goodness she also shared her thinking publicly so that I could stop and reflect on my learning and my biases more. Again, I could have written this paragraph just as it is (except that I didn’t stop to think enough to get there):

One of the first things I do when I’m so dramatically affected by an experience is try to figure out the root cause. After a few weeks of reflecting on my personal response, I recognize now that the reaction was due to the narrative about “bad guys” I’d been told growing up. You do a bad thing, you go to jail. If you didn’t do the bad thing, your talented Matlock-like lawyer will get you off. If you’re in jail, you deserve to be there. If you’re in jail, you don’t deserve to be treated like us “normal, non-criminals,” you sacrificed that right when you committed the crime you definitely committed. If people could just follow the rules, they wouldn’t end up in jail and if you do, it’s your own damn fault so stop complaining about your punishment. Any of you grow up with that same narrative?

Her piece reminded me of how I am not Brave, Brave, Brave most of the time. There is still so much work for me to do on me.

Back in December, at VASCD‘s annual conference, I heard the term Warm Demanders and felt immediately like it was something I wanted to remember and work to achieve. (I wrote about it too.) Then I came across a piece from ASCD‘s Educational Leadership from back in March by Shane Safir entitled Becoming a Warm Demader. Like so many pieces that I want to hold onto, Shane shares how she has grown. This requires being willing to face ways in which we felt short in the past, and may still do so. That isn’t always an easy thing to do publicly.

In truth, what Jason needed was for me to believe in him and persist in finding a way to serve him. He needed me to see that his distracting classroom behavior was an attempt at masking his struggle to read at grade level. He needed me to teach him how to read the complex texts we were studying with proficiency. He needed me to become a warm demander.

Shane walks through a situation in which she feels she did not serve a child well and explores the way she, and her principal, could have done better by Jason. It’s the sort of thinking our best teachers do regularly. Shane has modeled it for us.

Every time I write one of these posts it helps me reflect on the reading I am doing and what and who are catching my attention. At the moment I’m struck by the idea that educators who are taking a reflective lens toward themselves and their profession are what I need right now.

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