Monday, November 5, 2018

Beyond the walls: passionate and connected educators

I have long advocated for breaking down the walls in instruction. We can do this both within the classroom and outside. This post is about something a bit different. This is about what it really means to be an educator, and more.

It has been months since I last posted. I did some writing as I worked on another, somewhat related, project at the start of the summer. Then, I stopped. I just stopped. I could feel something shifting and, to be honest, I got shoved way out of my comfort zone a couple of times. And then, magic started happening.

As summer came to a close and we entered the full swing of the school year, the shift continued. I jumped back into Twitter chats that I have missed for months, close to a year in some cases. I continued with the necessary shift taking place and my classroom and my students are better for it. I am better for it. Still, it was reconnecting with my PLN that really made a difference I could feel and experience in a more immediate way. When your bucket fills on a Monday night as you connect with TOSA Chat or your heart grows exponentially on a Thursday night with the DitchBook Chat, it just feels good. The more long-term changes resulting from the shift that started over the summer started giving me more tangible results as the first trimester went on. In the meantime, the short-term bucket fills and heart growth helped make the long-term things come to life as well.

So, for the first time in nearly six months, here I sit, reflecting. I planned to write about FallCUE a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, that has yet to happen. It, too, has been shifted. Let's take a look at what being an educator really means.

Stay with me here.

Teachers are Special People

We pour so much of ourselves into our classrooms and our students and our lessons. Someone recently said to me, "it takes a real passion to do what you do. Teachers have to be passionate people." If you ask a middle school teacher to describe kindergarten teachers, they will quickly say that kindergarten teachers are very special people who do extraordinary things. "I could never do it," will declare the middle school teacher. Then turn around and ask kindergarten teachers to describe middle school teachers. You will hear the same thing. "I could never do it," will declare the kindergarten teacher.

That says a lot right there. All teachers are special. All teachers are capable of doing extraordinary things. The patience demonstrated by the kindergarten teacher is quite similar to that of the middle school teacher, but the ages of the students are different and how that patience is practiced will vary.

But wait...there's more.

I am incredibly thankful for my extended PLN. In my PLN, I have  chance to connect with teachers across all grade levels, as well as TOSAs, administrators, and support staffers. I have worked in everything from SDC and resource in public schools to as a TOSA at a K-8 private school to in both small and large middle school classrooms. As such, I feel myself constantly wanting to learn more and be more and do more. My extended PLN allows me to do that. I have grown as a math and science teacher, especially, over the years. I thank my professional development opportunities for that.

But wait....there's still more.

It is about what we do outside of the classroom as much as what we do in the classroom. Who we connect with and how we learn and the extras we do will make long-term, meaningful impacts. While we may not see the ultimate impacts of the choices we make now, they will happen. And that is what has me reflecting tonight.

The Risk Effect

When I attended my second Spring CUE conference, I ventured out for the karaoke meetup. I had considered it the year before, but skipped it. This year, I was determined to go. When I attend Spring CUE, I have traveled by myself, I have stayed by myself, and I pretty much have paid my own way for every bit of it in one way or another. So, there was this CUE Karaoke thing happening in what was essentially a section of a hallway in the Renaissance Hotel. It was y second time attending the conference, so I knew faces better and I had started to connect with people on Twitter more. Still, I didn't REALLY know anyone. I texted back in forth with my best friend as I worked to select a song to sing. I don't sing well, but I love karaoke. I picked "Friends in Low Places." As I sang, I got more and more nervous, in part, because hardly anyone in the small crowd joined in with me. But, I did it. I took a risk. I did what we tell our students to do every day. Take a risk. The only failure is in not trying. Right? It sounds silly that it started with karaoke, but I was able to take things to the next level. I submitted a proposal to CapCUE's TechFest and presented there the following September. The following February, I was presenting at ETC! the education event put on by SCOE at Stan State. Less than a month later, I was back at Spring CUE and I ventured out for dinner by myself where I ended up eating dinner with a few educators from Bakersfield then we headed over to CUE Karaoke. I picked Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." I had no expectation of anyone singing along, but I was comfortable enough with myself and the song and life in general that I didn't care. And then, it happened. People sang with me. It was super rad, great fun! It all started with a risk.

Making Connections

Getting to know our students is imperative. Connecting with them provides us insight into how they think, what motivates them, and how we can better serve them. Finding out what kind of music a student likes can provide a wealth of knowledge about that student. Just the same about other interests such as sports, other extracurricular interests, friends, and such. I used to tell students, "I don't care if you like me. I do demand that you respect me." What I have come to realize over the years that what they likely heard was "I don't care" and everything after that was lost. And, the fact of the matter is, it is important to me as an educator to make connections and know my students. The person who recently said that educators are passionate about what they do is absolutely correct. We have to be passionate about what we do and who we serve. If I see a student is struggling to accomplish a given task, I will take the time to ask how we can tackle the issue. When a student is ready to give up on a math problem, I will turn their question around and have them explain it to me. When a student feels lost, I will do everything I can to lead them and then teach them how to lead. But it goes beyond that. I have attended water polo scrimmages, football games, confirmations, graduation parties, and stage performances for past and current students. I have seen faces light up because I was present for something that was important to them. I also use "optional field trips" on weekends or holidays to connect with students and their families. We meet for hikes or movies, but this year I am branching out some. We're doing a bigger hike, farther from home, and in December, a few of us are going to see A Christmas Carol in San Francisco. I am also looking at visiting the USS Hornet later in the year.  There are many wonderful opportunities in the world to expand our learning. And I will continue to do those things as long as I possibly can, no matter how old they get, no matter how old I get.

Being "kid-people"

Educators have to be in the business of kids. I know that. Still, it amazes and impresses me when someone does something super special for a kid, especially my kid. My kids and I do a podcast that we record irregularly, but are passionate about doing. We call ourselves the EdTech Family. We share this with anyone and everyone who will listen. It is a special thing for us. We also listen to education podcasts together. Well, one at least. (I listen to most others on my own.) The Check This Out Podcast has fascinated Connor for about three years and now that we spend more time in the car together on weekdays, both kids are hooked. Recently, Connor found their website and went on to record a message for Ryan and Brian. These two amazing educators took his recording and played it then talked about it in what ended up being about a two-minute segment on their recent episode. As we listened, Connor lit up. I teared up. The entire thing was completely beautiful, and appreciated beyond words.

Side note: Ryan is one of the people who led the charge for singing along with me at that karaoke a few years ago.


So, let me wrap this all up together.

Educators are special people. They go the extra mile. When that extends beyond the classroom, magic happens. When you get shoved outside of your comfort zone and there is someone there saying, "it's all good...ready, set, go..." Magic happens. The things we do for each other as educators makes a world of difference. The things we do for our students outside of the classroom makes a world of difference. The things we do for kids whether they are our students or not, makes a world of difference. Keep writing, keep recording, keep connecting, keep shining, keep existing, keep being in the business of people, of kids, of learning. Be passionate. We educators can be, should be, and are some of the most passionate people on this beautiful planet.

And to my educator friends, I thank you for all you are and all you do. I also want to remind you that every little thing you do matters and you are constantly making a difference. If you feel pushed out of your comfort zone and you're wondering where the magic is, I assure you, it is coming. Magic is happening and the lasting impact of everything you do may not be immediately evident, but you are making lasting impacts. There are people who appreciate what you are doing. Again, I thank you.