Last week I had the privilege of joining over 5000 of my independent school colleagues at the FISA Conference. I found it to be an uplifting two days, but there was also an underlying call to action to all of the teachers in attendance. (I will get to that later)
On my way home I was on the Skytrain and couldn’t help but overhear three younger teachers talking about how they enjoyed the conference, but that they all still had a sense of being overwhelmed with all of the things that teaching entails and feelings of guilt that they just can’t do enough to feel like they are being successful both as teachers and as people. What I really wanted to do at that point was to interrupt them and add my two cents to their conversation. I don’t profess to be any sort of expert, but I have worked at four schools and have learned from many excellent teachers and principals over the seventeen years that I have been a teacher. I think I have picked up a few tidbits over the years that might be common sense, but that I think some people might need to hear.
So, in place of interrupting random strangers on the Skytrain, I thought I would offer my advice here. First, an affirmation:
- Teachers, you are doing good things for kids. I have been in a lot of different teacher’s classrooms and what I can say is that, without exception, the teachers I know are influencing kids in a positive way. What that means is that you can let go of the guilt that comes with not being able to get to everything on your to-do list. As teachers, we could work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and would still find things to do. It is okay to let some things go. You are doing good for kids.
With that said, my one big takeaway from the FISA Conference was this: The world is changing. We are preparing our kids for a world that is changing rapidly and we have a moral imperative to change. I think many teachers find this overwhelming, so I would like to offer just a little bit of advice that I hope someone might find helpful.
- Pick one thing and try it. Positive change is a series of small wins, so choose just one thing and go for it. Whether that one thing is Genius Hour, Makerspaces, blogging, or anything else, try something new. If it doesn’t go well, try something else. I bet though, once you have tried it, you will see the value in continuing.
- Go to a Saturday Pro-D. I know, Saturdays are tough. Trust me, I know. What I have discovered, however, about events like Ted-X, or Edcamps, or Ignite Nights is that the people that attend these events are the people who you want to be around. They are excited about education and their attitude and energy will inspire and motivate you. There is no one sitting in the back of the room saying, “This is stupid. Why do we have to do this.” like there are at all other pro-d events.
- Read a book. What I really mean, when I advise you to read, is to pick up a book that will help you grow as a teacher. I would recommend “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, or “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. I am in the middle of “Creative Schools” by Ken Robinson and am excited to read “Hacking Assessment” by Starr Sackstein. All of these books will challenge and inspire you to improve.
- Try out Twitter. I know, many people are skeptical of Twitter because they think it is just a series of celebrities sharing pictures of the sandwich they ate for lunch. There definitely is that out there, but if you are selective of who you follow, there is also a great deal of sharing and learning going on that you are missing out on. I can honestly say that the people I follow on Twitter have made me a better, more effective teacher.
- Seek out support. If any of this stuff seems overwhelming or difficult, don’t worry. There are many people out there that would be happy to help you out. If you can’t think of anyone, ask me. I will try to help you. If I can’t help you, I will connect you with Rose. She knows everyone! Seriously, our schools are full of smart, competent, helpful people, but we need to get out of the four walls of our classroom to find them.
Teachers are doing great things for kids, but we have a responsibility to change. We need to take the things that we know work, and combine those things with new, creative ideas that empower and prepare kids for a future that doesn’t exist and will be much different than our present. Start small. Let go of guilt. Seek small wins. Change.