Selfish Mom Moment

Yesterday was my daughter’s continuation from eighth grade to high school. She looked forward to it and wanted me to go an buy her a dress for the occasion. It is a big deal at her school which is a k-8 magnet school in our district. The problem is that she asked me to take her shopping the Sunday night before the last two days of my school year. I just couldn’t swing it and I knew if I tried I would make myself crazy in the process.

She found an outfit and she looked great, but I know it wasn’t the same had she actually had a new dress to show off and feel really good in. Like the kid she is, she made the best of it and moved on and had a lovely day.

After the ceremony, where I must admit I shed a few tears, my husband and I were standing at the reception, awkwardly as always, when she came bounding up to us. She gave us a hug and said that we had not signed the permission slip to go to the celebration at the beach volleyball place near her school. I could feel myself tense up. I had to get back to school to finish a report that was not good enough the first go around , and to finish checking out for the school year. In short, I was feeling selfish and wanted to close out my school year as quickly as I could. I wanted to be done.

While we stood arguing over her permission slip and where to find one, Maya’s fifth grade friend walked up, tears streaming down her face. No words. Just a big heartfelt strong bear hug. After about a minute, and many tears from my whole family of three, Abbie pulls Maya away and said, “I just can’t imagine school without you. I’m going to miss you so much.”

In that moment, that precise moment I took a deep breath realizing the weight of this day for Maya. While it seemed like a big deal, but maybe not a huge deal to me, that moment made me realize how much this day meant for Maya. This day meant goodbye to people she cares very deeply about, people who are all dispersing to different schools around the city and the country. These are people she bonded with over the last four years. Let me be clear if I haven’t yet; my daughter’s school creates middle school experiences atypical of most middle schools.

The students there really care deeply about one another.

This short scene has made me think about the times in class when I have been in that same selfish place with my students; wanting to move on because we have so much to cover, wanting to jet off to my next class or my next meeting when a student has a question, giving harsh feedback without sitting with the learner to coach them, getting frustrated in the light of learning…so many things, so many times.

To be mindful is to be present in the situation, to neither think of the past or what is to come in the future. To be present with kids is to be with them in their experiences, to neither minimize nor blow their experiences beyond what they are. To be with them in whatever moment they are in.

I hope the next time my daughter (or my students) present me with an opportunity to share their experience, I am more mindful and open to sharing it.

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Reach Out and Touch Someone

I have been extremely lucky in my career in that I have  had people who have worked with me to develop my craft and to help me expand my career. It is so easy for teachers to hole up and “silo” themselves in their classrooms. It is easier to simply teach and go home at the end of the day than it is for us to take risks and network with other teachers to improve our craft. If we simply teach in the four walls of our classroom, though, it does not do our students any kind of service to their learning.

When I network and collaborate with other teachers, I learn how to be a better advocate for learning. When I learn, my students learn.

This is why, ten years ago, I decided to try the Denver Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. I knew the experience would be good for me, but I had no idea how good. A mentor of mine, Mark Overmeyer, recommended and encouraged me to apply for this experience. It was an awesome summer of learning with other teachers how to become a better teacher of writing. But I had no idea what it would lead to…

…and for a long time it didn’t lead to anything. But six years later I saw a friend of mine who was a co-director of the Denver Writing Project and told her that I would like to be more involved, but I wasn’t sure how. She told me there was this new thing the project was about to be involved in and that I might be interested. A couple weeks later I had an email from her inviting me to work with other teachers from all over the country on the Literacy Design Collaborative work to help teachers better understand the Common Core State Standards.

This work helped me understand the power of collaborative thinking partners and their importance in doing the hard work of teaching. Out of this work, I was asked to be a part of the Leadership Team for a group called Assignments Matter, a group working to help teachers from across the country design relevant Tasks that are aligned with the Common Core. This experience has been awesome in that I have witness from a leadership standpoint what happens when smart teachers are placed in a room together. Amazing things happen.

I am realizing that this experience is all about creating spaces for teachers to talk and collaborate. Teachers need time, there is no doubt about it.When we are given time, we can make great things happen. It is my turn to begin passing the torch. I have invited some teachers from my building to come to a training the writing project is doing in May to try to bring some other people into the conversation. Two summers ago a science teacher I really admire did the writing project, and she and I have been working on book studies and presenting at conferences together ever since. Keeping her involved and mentoring her around literacy issues has been a goal of mine.

When we reach out and touch a teacher to help them build relationships with her teachers, we are helping them build their craft. Relationships are not only key in our bonds with students and our ability to help them learn, but with other teachers as well. When we have relationships with other teacher, WE learn.