Teachers, Your Voice from Your World Matters

I've now cleaned my entire desk.  I Windexed my desk.  It's super shiny.  So are the windows above my desk. I finally got the remnants of those Christmas decals off so now I have a bright, open view of my neighborhood.  What all this really means is that I'm trying to sit down and write something.  I'd like to tell you I've been on a break, or I took a hiatus to do some important work, as those famous authors on Twitter say.

But I haven't been on hiatus.  I've rambled a whole notebook of random-thought journaling.  I have three blog drafts that I decided were nothing anyone else would ever want to read, so they're just sitting, lonely and sad, in my blog list.  And I participated in a bunch of Twitter Chats.

But today with my clean window and shiny desk, I'm sitting down to explore this yucky slump I've been in, how I'm attempting to pull myself out, and to tell you, that if you're in a slump too, why it's important to come out of it, even if you think it doesn't matter because the end of the year is just around the corner.

I'll start where it began:  my PLN.  I love my Twitter people. I love reading, chatting, sharing, engaging.  It has allowed me connect with so many educators and authors across the country from my famous edu-heroes, like Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher to my Project LIT family to the amazing authors who make my students' whole world light up when they like a tweet. I love opening my Twitter feed to see what all these brilliant people have said, retweeted or commented on.

But sometimes, when it's dark, cold and gray outside, and Spring seems to be avoiding us, and my students are grumpy and I'm grumpy, I start to see only the amazing things that everyone else is doing and begin to question everything I'm doing (or not doing) and I begin to wonder why I even have a blog at all because I really should just let all the brilliant people have their say, so I decide that I'm just cluttering up the internet with my rambling chatter and I should really just shut up and let the brilliant people speak.

I can spiral down pretty fast.

Well, it's now April 15th (forecast for central Missouri:  snow) and I've decided, that I've been whining (albeit quietly) for long enough.  That and I've had some kick-in-the-butt motivation from outside sources that have finally made me remember the advice that I keep giving my students:  that each of them matter and the world needs to hear their voices.

Cue the self-help audio books. I am a proud self-help book junkie and read them on a regular basis. Other people read trashy novels; I devour motivational books just for fun.  I love to read them, and listening is even better!  Enter Rachel Hollis and her book Girl, Wash Your Face:  Stop Believing the Lies About 
Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be. Now, I might not be able to relate with Rachel's highly successful blog and business, but her simple, honest, personal message definitely nudged me out of my slump.  Stop making excuses and worrying about everyone else:  being YOU is enough!

I plowed through Rachel's book while painting my basement workout room (complete with more motivational sayings than a decorator would probably recommend), and then moved on to The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform You Life Before 8am by Hal Elrod. I mean, this guy has got title word choice down - he totally knows his audience!  SecretGuaranteedTransform!  And, best of all?  BEFORE 8AM!!  I mean, anyone who knows me knows I am so a morning person.  It's like this book was made for me!

And, let me tell you, I have not been disappointed. Who doesn't want tips on how to feel even more amazing early in the morning no matter how much sleep you get? Count me in!

One problem:  Hal does not recommend that you get up, turn on your coffee pot, and immediately check Twitter.  This had become my morning routine since February 27th - the day after our Nic Stone book club (I think I might have been having the Post-Nic-Stone Blues--me and a hundred of my favorite kids). Hal has the nerve to suggest that I need to actually do something productive during this morning time, something to further my goals and dreams.  What?  I can't just absorb others' Twitter brilliance like a teenager hoping to soak up Biology knowledge by putting the book under his pillow?

But whatever.  I decided to give it a go.  Rule #1:  no technology. My focus instead would be journaling, reading a chapter of my growing stack of professional books, and a little yoga. First book on my list was to finish Tom Newkirk's book Holding On To Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones.  Dr. Newkirk's book arrived at the end of January and I hadn't finished it yet. Since it had been a while, I returned to the beginning and started the book again.  And, I'm so glad I did.  This was exactly what I needed to read.

In Chapter 2, "The Teacher as Schmidt," Dr. Newkirk talks about the importance of the individual teacher in his or her very specific classroom. "To do their work," he writes, "requires a particularized, situated, child-specific, class-specific, day-specific, school-specific form of knowledge--often intuitive and unarticulated--that is rarely considered to be theory at all" (29). And further, he states, "Teaching, as I see it, is an ongoing series of microexperiements that extend and modify the repertoire of teachers.  When we stop experimenting, we stop living as teachers" (31).

Right here in this chapter I could see so clearly what had happened to me this winter.  Instead of valuing my own thinking, my own classroom, my own voice, I had outsourced my power.  I had handed it over to everyone else.  I wanted Nic's author visit to magically create a reading culture in our whole school; I wanted following the right people on Twitter to magically solve any classroom struggles I was having; and I wanted the likes and retweets to mean I was doing a good job. All that seemed so much more important than the world of my small classroom.

Yikes. That's a sad realization. Because here's the real truth:  I have real students in my real classroom who need their real teacher at her best every day. So, while I still think it's great to have a professional learning network, it's also important that all teachers remember that their own classroom is important; the lessons they teach are important; and that sharing their voice, as small as it may seem, is really important.  Experimenting, reflecting, and sharing are how we learn and stay energized as teachers.

This message has repeatedly hit me in the last few days (as messages often do).  First, 180 Days, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher's new book, arrived in the mail this week.  I can't wait to read it because of course it will be amazing.  But even more than that, I am in awe of the way Penny and Kelly have lived their educational lives.  They don't just talk about good teaching; they are still teaching, learning, reflecting, pushing themselves, and then sharing what they've learned with others.  They didn't just stop because they were successful; they have continued throughout whole, long careers!  Imagine if all teachers continued to grow and share their learning like this?

The message repeated itself next on Twitter with my Project LIT friend, Julia Torres.  Her latest blog (which you should read here) is about adding YA literature to her AP classes.  While I absolutely applaud her choice to get kids reading and thinking about books that speak to them, I was also struck by her powerful decision to do this.  Instead of complaining that the traditional AP texts weren't relevant or that her students were disengaged, Julia took action, choosing new, relevant texts that fit the specific students that she teaches.  And then she shared that decision.

And, just in case I still wasn't hearing the message that teachers voices and choices matter, I ran across a blog post by Pernille Ripp, who I also follow on Twitter. The post was called "One Week Into a Phone-Free Classroom." (You can read that one here.) This one struck me because of its simplicity.  Pernille noticed an issue in her classroom and she took action, even though she realized this might not be popular.  She knew her kids, she made a decision that was best for their classroom, and she shared her story with others.

All of these cases illustrate what Tom Newkirk was saying in his book:  it is important for teachers to be active decision-makers in their own classrooms, not just people who deliver instruction.  Teachers know their students and what they need.  They know the complexities of personalities, learning styles and needs that make up their classrooms, and they each are in the best position to create the most powerful learning for their students.

While I have no plans of getting off Twitter, I have a new respect for each individual on there and the vulnerability they face.  We all question and doubt what we're doing, who we are, and if we're good enough.  But, you know what?  We all are. Just like we value all the different students who show up in our classrooms each year, hoping we can help them grow and use their own unique talents in our world, educators need to remember that we too are unique and valuable, and our diverse voices also need to be heard.  By being our best learning, attentive, growing, changing, living selves, we have so much to add to the world of education.

I'd love to say I've kicked all my doubts to the curb and I'm heading into our last five weeks of school like Super Woman, that's not quite accurate.  I'm still questioning, and probably always will be. But I did finish and publish this blog post, and today, that feels pretty close to success to me.

Happy Sunday!


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