In her “Work in Progress” blog at Education Week Teacher, Starr Sackstein noted “5 Questions Educators Must Ask Themselves Every Day.” They are compelling questions, so as part of #loveteaching week, I thought I would have a go at them.
Am I excited about going to school every day?
Well, yeah! I get to work with kids who are genuinely excited about learning and who care about other and about the world. Kids who are trying their best to figure out who they are, how the world works, how they fit in, and how they can make it better. Kids who, in short, constantly endear themselves to me and keep my life full of purpose.
Do I believe I can still learn new stuff about my content?
Unquestionably. One main reason is that my content is constantly changing. With students in charge of designing units in Humanities 7 and of choosing music in Middle and Upper School Rock Bands, I never know year to year - or, really, month to month - what we’re going to be doing next. Meanwhile, I’m in daily touch with my PLN in person (colleagues and students), by phone (family), and on social media (many hundreds of people) on issues of education, social justice, and beneath it all the primacy of strong relationships. I’m learning pretty much constantly pretty much every day.
Are my students’ needs at the front of everything I do?
I try my hardest to ensure this is true - and here, of course, is where asking the question every day keeps you on your toes. So far, I think I’m doing pretty well, because my colleagues tell me they appreciate my unceasing focus on the kids and what they need in the various meetings I attend. I also know when I go to give kids feedback, I instinctively individualize both what I say and how I say it.
Where I sometimes have to work, honestly, is remembering that spending nearly 100% of my waking hours on schoolwork is no healthier for my students than it is for me. I am doing a good job this year with regular exercise, and with getting out of the house even if it’s just to coffeeshops up and down the Valley. And my daily phone calls with my family are a great break, too. I just… need a few less waking hours. At least I’ve learned not to be proud of that. It’s a first step.
How do I implement student voice and choice in my decision-making for learning?
Well, as I said above, my students determine 100% of the content in my courses, so there’s that. :-) Beyond that, though, my Humanities 7 students do weekly independent reading and writing, and have the option of reading from their writing every Monday whether simply to share it or to solicit whatever feedback they might desire. My Rock Band students sign up for songs each time we start a new performance cycle, and can choose to try different roles and instruments each time. Students in all my courses self-evaluate multiple times a year, and I always include questions about what I am doing that is working for them and what ideas they have for how I can serve them even better.
What risks can I take today that model the growth mindset?
For me, this is one of the toughest questions. It’s in part the “ask yourself every day” and “risks can I take today” parts that make this tough. But it’s also the part where you never know what a given day is going to bring you. Some days, I fly through classes almost effortlessly; other days, I have to marshall every ability I have to listen and process and analyze and strategize and, finally, act. Some days, my PLN overwhelms me with fascinating resources; other days, it takes me hours to reach my target of at least two thought-provoking tweets a day from the school account. So I actually think the key to this question is to focus on the word “mindset.” If you’re always ready to take risks and grow, you’re good. And here, given that people who read my blogs often tell me I am “brave,” I’m probably doing a reasonable job of trying to live the growth mindset every day. It’s just a matter of ensuring I stay vulnerable to the areas where it’s most painful to realize I still and will always have work to do, like unlearning privilege.
To all teachers out there who want to have a go at answering these questions themselves, please do, and enjoy. And if you do, please tag Ms. Sackstein so she knows you did - and please include the hashtag #loveteaching.