What Really Matters? Connection. Really.

As I’ve already written, my one word goal for 2019 is flexibility. But it was very nearly connection. And maybe it’s just that it’s on my mind, but I have been seeing conversations about connection, and conversely, isolation, EVERYWHERE!

In Megan Morgan’s #OneWord2019 of trust:

I am living out trust when:
I will choose connection over isolation.
I will add value to others and myself.
I will treat myself as a trusted friend.

~Megan Morgan

In Richard Ten Eyck’s Rethinking Learning Blog:

In my visits to schools throughout the country over the past 15 years, I have seen school after school in which separation dominates… kids separate from teachers, teachers separation from leadership, kids separate from one another. In many of these schools, teachers in adjacent classroom have no idea what is happening next door. Teachers work in isolation with little or no understanding, commitment, acceptance (pick your noun) of a common direction, vision, purpose (with the possible common commitment to have their kids achieve arbitrarily determined cut-scores on state assessments).

~Richard TenEyck

In Strong Towns’ piece about child abductions and the human habitat:

By closing ourselves off from each other, we do serious damage to ourselves and to society—and sometimes, that damage is worse than the danger we feared in the first place….The story of Jayme Closs should give us cause to hug our children a little tighter, but then to love them enough to send them out boldly into the world—and while they’re out playing, we need to work to make that world just a little less isolating for them.”

~Charles Marohn

Not to mention the last couple of weekly Dose of Daring emails from Brene Brown:

Connection cannot be an afterthought. It cannot take the backseat to curriculum. It cannot be another program.

Connection in our classrooms might look like:

  • Choosing messy conversations over neat clip charts or similar systems
  • Helping students plan their own day to gain a broader picture and make their own connections for a meaningful learning path
  • Engaging in inquiry with our students, and sharing our genuine personal learning journeys
  • Building in blocks of time to listen and share, such as a weekly classroom meeting or daily high/lows.
  • Making reading and writing and math more about being readers and writers and mathematics than about doing all those things.

Once you start to pay attention to just how important connection is, and the heavy price of isolation, you won’t be able to stop noticing. And really, we need it every bit as much as our students do, anyway. How will you choose connection today?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Matters Most to YOU About your Child’s School Experience? #TeacherMom

Much of what I write here comes down to this question. But when it came down answering it directly for an interview for my cousin’s class, I was surprised at how difficult it was to decide.

What matters most to me? Really, no less than a preservation of my child’s humanity. Her empathy. Her creativity. Her curiosity. Because only when she finds meaning for herself will the learning follow.

Cultivating humanity exists in the small details. Non-examples include choices such as:

  • assigning worksheets that are excessive or developmentally inappropriate and then faulting children for being inattentive
  • focusing more on the data and products than on the child
  • consistently depending on extrinsic incentives instead of choosing to have the harder, ongoing conversations about broader, more intrinsic values

Examples include:

  • honoring students’ agency by inviting them to the planning table for their own learning
  • proactively working to communicate with families, not because we want behavior conversations to be less awkward, but because we want families to know we truly care about their children
  • trusting students to monitor their own bathroom use

These are the kinds of approaches that send a clear message to students: you are valued. Your voice matters. You bring something unique to our group that cannot be replicated.

These messages matter not only for the sake of individual wellness (which is a worthy goal in itself), but for the sake of our collective future in an increasingly automated world. Realizing that “human beings are our most valuable resource” (as referenced in the recent article, “Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is”) should be of utmost importance in meeting the needs of the individual and the whole.  (see also the great video Adam Hill shared in his post, “What are Soft Skills & Why do Students Need them More than Ever?“)

Going back to that interview, other questions posed included:

  • What matters most to your child when they go to school?
  • What is the most important quality for a classroom teacher to possess?
  • What makes you the most nervous about sending your child to school?
  • If your child misbehaves, how would you hope the teacher handles it?
  • What rules are the most important for teachers to have?
  • How should teachers best communicate with parents in regards to their child’s behavior?

What might happen if we use these kinds of questions as conversation-starters between teachers and families? How might collaborating to figure out what we hope school will accomplish impact our communities? And most importantly, how might seeking for understanding and connection help us cultivate humanity on the scale of the both the individual and the whole?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Valuing Teacher Humanity

It was the end of lunchtime. I finished up in the teacher’s lounge and was just about to head up to my classroom when I suddenly had to run to the bathroom.

After a long journey of trying to conceive, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, and finally a positive pregnancy test — I felt sure I was losing that baby.

The details of all that followed are a bit of a blur. I managed to get someone to cover my class as my kids returned from lunch, managed to get down to the office to explain why I had to leave.

But what will forever remain clear in my memory was the compassion of my principal, Kathy Watson. She listened as I sobbed. She held my hands, hugged me, reassured me that I could take all the time I needed.

Equally precious was what she did not do. She didn’t bring up sub plans, she didn’t hint at a meeting she was probably late for, she didn’t remind me of leave policies, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain in any way. I knew that in that moment of crisis, nothing was more important than her being there for me.

In short, she valued my humanity as a teacher and as a human being.

I wish valuing teachers’ humanity is something we could all take for granted. But somehow, as we wave our banners for what’s best for students, sometimes what’s best for teachers gets forgotten. A sad recent example (with many more in the thread):

When I was a class-teacher my son was rushed into hospital. It was touch and go.

As in many instances when I’m writing about something vulnerable, I’m reminded of something author Brene Brown wrote:

What I’ve also learned from Brene’s work is that it’s impossible to be selective about our empathy. We cannot profess to have empathy for our students and then deny it for our teachers. We need to find ways to let all those around us with whom we would like to make meaningful connections that they are not alone, that we are with them in the arena, too.

I am grateful to report that after a couple of dark weeks, we found that the baby’s heart was still beating. My son is a thriving 4 year-old today. I am also grateful to have had the chance to experience such empathy from my principal. Both are precious moments I will carry with me for a lifetime.

What are ways we can show teachers we value their humanity even when especially if it throws a wrench into plans? How does modeling this kind of empathy impact our students and their learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto