My not-so-easy-to-write answer to, “WHY do I do it?” #Youredustory

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it” – Simon Sinek

Why do I do what I do?

First, what do I do…?

I am a teacher, and mother, and writer and it’s a long list, but within that there must be a something that defines me a bit.

What is it that those who cheer me and those that are frustrated with me would both say?

Perhaps it is that  – I challenge… good or bad – I’ll admit and own it – I challenge…

In my defense, I challenge myself as well. I’m willing to just try something. I experiment. I get in over my head and have to find my way out. I take on too much and I am always on a journey – never feeling like I’ve arrived.

Normally, it’s for want of company or at least understanding that I put out the challenge. “Have you read…?” “What if we looked at it another way…” “I used to think that too, but now I think…”

The words are out before I have time to swallow them back.

Why do I do that?

Wouldn’t it be easier to go along with the crowd? Deflect the blame… make excused… talk about what’s wrong with kids these days…

“Ouch”

I’ve been thinking about it and I can point to a DuFour conference and a Wormeli book, or two, that gave me a push. That graduate program in Instructional Leadership didn’t help. Let’s not even talk about the light bulb moment that comes with my son’s dyslexia…

The “why” does come from all of the above experiences, but if we are going to be totally honest it comes from being that kids in the classroom that never – ever – ever — passed a spelling test. I read every book I could get my hands on, I wrote essays for the fun of it, I was a hungry learner, but I had a glitch that I didn’t understand.

A gap?

A learning style?

A reason for people to laugh.

It was something that didn’t make bubble test easy. It stood in the way of being able to retrieve multiplication facts on a timed test. Most embarrassing – It made me a very frustrated student in a one and done, 20 words a week – we are moving on and you failed school system.

I hated that,

and now, I recognize the precarious a situation I was in. In some ways I hated school, I didn’t trust right away, and I could recognize a “got cha” grader from a mile away.

I didn’t know about learning styles or brain development back then. All I knew what that I was really smart, but not every teacher was interested in finding that out. If I challenged them as a student – they were likely to respond negatively. I can only imagine how kids who provide much more significant challenges feel every time they walk into a classroom. I am not willing to make them feel the way I did just because I am now in the position to do so.

I challenge. I do. I need to learn to be gentle. To respond from empathy. To honor people were they are. Yes, I’ll own that too. I’m working on it.

But if it helps to know why, if it inspires buy in, if it explains who I am… than I’ll go back to that raw feeling of failure and frustration that came every Friday afternoon when the teacher said, “take out a piece of loose leaf paper and number it from one to twenty.”

I don’t want to be the teacher that puts a sense of “no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I will never be successful at this” in the minds of my students.

“Ouch.” I know.

I feel like I can be someone different. Someone who inspires and supports. Someone who keeps hope alive and reminds that “we are just not there yet” – we teachers, we students, we community of learners…”

It’s my belief that we will to get there.

Together.

That answers… why I do it?

Define Learning in 100 Words…

Learning is the process of change or growth that comes from life experiences. Intelligence is malleable – what we focus on we will learn. The life long learning that shows up in mission statements is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning. It’s a passion for learning that comes from deep within. Learning because the learner wants to: it is a deliberate and voluntary act. It’s a cycle of motivation, examination, reflection, and growth that continues beyond the classroom door. As a teacher, I create a culture that nurtures a learning mindset – acknowledging that I too am a learner.

One Word That Inspires Me in My Classroom – “Grace”

When I teach I strive to do it with grace. No, I’m certainly not a ballerina floating about the classroom. When I think of grace I think of a deeper meaning – one that goes with words like favor, good will, mercy, and honor.

Do I have a favorite student? Honestly, I believe that if I’ve done things right they all think they’re a favorite. My goal is to be a safe spot for the kids – a place where they can check in and feel connected. Middle school kids move all day and crave a place where they are unconditionally welcome. I truly believe that if I can make that connection, then I have a chance at growing a passionate learner – which is even more important than any curriculum or content.

Competition in the classroom that makes learning fun and supports healthy motivation is one thing – but I draw the line when it starts looking like sorting students. Good will for me means that I am going to do my best to ensure that all my students learn at high levels, and I will hold myself accountable to that. When the kids know that’s the goal, then the collaboration and support grows as well. We become a community of learners.

Mercy. My own kids are the same age as my students and I can attest that they really don’t have a ton of control over their own lives. Things go wrong– they run out of time – organizational skills fall apart – there is a game or extra practice that they didn’t expect– or even worse I ask them to babysit or insist they actually practice that instrument—there are rarely enough hours in the day. Mercy, for me is recognizing when a student is not there yet – and the reason for the “yet” may or may not sound valid to my ears – it doesn’t really matter. I’m trying to get over the need to judge or snap back with a “got-cha” and instead help them to make a new plan.

Kids learn differently. They occasionally sweat the small stuff and overlook the big stuff. Each comes to my classroom with their own story to tell, their own baggage, their own disappointments, and their own dreams. When I honor them as individuals and their work as precious pieces of learning evidence the tone of my day changes. There is an investment that we are willing to make in each other and the work we will do together. I feel and act more like a coach than a boss and I’m more willing to celebrate their individuality even if it does make record keeping and lesson planning a greater challenge.

This is where I am right now as a teacher. It’s a reflection on my vocation in this moment – a snap shot of my thinking. I have not always been here and I hope that a year from now I am further along on the journey. For me in 2015, I’m feeling the gifts of grace.