I’m usually a firm believer in the “too much rest is rust” saying by Sir Walter Scott. However, upon completing the school year in May, my body needed a little time to rust, I mean, rest. Summer days driftin’ away while reconnecting with my family were just what I needed. I also read. A lot. Grown up books. I’ve found that being a voracious reader helps me be a better reading and writing teacher. The summer’s highlights were Lincoln in the Bardo which played with form and style in an enviable manner. I also read everything Roxane Gay has written and learned that I need to carefully examine my own privilege to better understand some of the barriers my students face. Tom Rademacher’s brutally honest and hilarious look at his own teaching career It Won’t Be Easy made me laugh, made me cry, and made want to tear down and rebuild schools the way they should be…for kids.
Then July hit and I was ready to shake off the rust. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several conferences in Arizona and around the nation. I met talented, diverse, and passionate teachers from rural, urban, and suburban areas around the country teaching pre-k through post-secondary.
While meeting such a varied group of educators, common themes emerged in every single conference room, panel discussion, and practically every late-night conversation. The most apparent theme was that in teaching, it’s all about the relationships. Nothing is more important in schools than the connection between the student and teacher.
Student well-being was a frequent topic of conversation. The educators I had the pleasure to learn with this summer emphatically agreed that student physical, emotional, mental health can no longer be seen as separate from achievement, but as a critical component of (or precursor to) achievement.
Teacher well-being also came up in conversations again and again. We give so much of ourselves to our work, we must diligently practice self-care. It is also crucial to cultivate a teacher tribe who will encourage you to make time for self-care or will force care upon you, if necessary. We had conversations around equity of time and resources which are critical for our students, and our profession, as well. Many of us witness burnout in our colleagues all too often and we need to support each other as we support our students.
The combination of rest and rejuvenation solidified my annual New Year’s Resolution. I’m hesitant to use the term “personalized learning” because it has so many connotations, but I plan to create learning experiences and strategies to meet each student’s needs and interests. I’ve found that as my students become more and more diverse, and my class sizes increasingly large, I need to be very strategic and intentional in meeting their academic, motivational and life needs.
My journey has already started. I’ve begun to build a learner profile with each student detailing their preferred learning styles, interests, strengths, areas in need of improvement, gaps in past learning, their academic and social goals and other data. My next steps are to design competency-based progressions for my priority standards with the theory that providing more choice will increase student agency. Will this require changing my entire teaching methodology? Not really. I’ve always tried to meet each student where they are and help get them where they want to go. But I’ve never intentionally involved students in the process. It may not run like greased lightning at first, but I’m hopelessly devoted to giving it a try.
Happy New Year! I hope your year is peachy keen, jellybean.