Wednesday 10 July 2013: Jazz and Strange Dinner Guests
One of the many strange things about being a teacher is that your job and your life eventually become intertwined. You simply cannot leave work at work because there is always marking to be done, evaluations to be completed and lessons to be planned. There is also always the thinking: How can I create better lessons? What do I do about that one student I am not reaching? What’s to become of that little lost soul? Over time, teachers become obsessed with the dynamics of learning and personal growth, and eventually this starts spilling over into almost all other aspects of our lives. I constantly find myself trying to ‘teach’ people (and myself) when I am not at work. (This is the reason teachers make infuriating drivers and strange dinner guests.)
But I like it this way. I want to model the kind of person I want my students to become, and so I work hard to be curious about the world, to get excited about finding things out independently, to do things creatively, and to think critically about the information I come across. I see myself as a lifelong learner, and every year I try to learn as much as my students do. I like to think that I set a good example for my students, and I do think that for a few of them this probably inspires them more to become independent, curious, creative and critical thinkers than any lesson in class ever will. How can this be a bad thing?
As rewarding as all of this is, it is hard work. I often find myself crawling into the holidays feeling absolutely drained. And it is usually at about this time of year (the middle of the school year in South Africa) that I try to find ways to ‘reboot’ myself so that I can go back to work refreshed and ready to inspire. I have always found this a particularly difficult thing to do. Six months into the school year, I feel that both my students and I develop a bit of a rhythm, and the temptation is just to carry on marching to the same beat. This can lead to complacency and even boredom. So I try hard to jazz things up a notch or two. If my students don’t fully know what to expect, I can expect more of them. And of myself.
This year, I discovered Shelly Terrell’s 30 Goals Challenge. I have written previously about how I dislike the ‘goals’ school leaders want to me to set and achieve*. My main point in that post was this: if I try to do my level best every day, what point is there in setting goals? But this is different. The 30 Goals Challenge is a global initiative, encouraging teachers to think differently about what they do, to reflect on how they do so, and to share their experiences. As such, it feels like I am part of something bigger, more important and more meaningful.
So I have decided to accept the challenge, and will be using this platform to record my progress. I will be updating this post periodically, so please feel free to pop back once a week or so. I will also post updates on Twitter.
This blog has always been a record of my own thoughts, fears, ratings, and foibles. This post will be no different. I will be documenting my progress honestly and openly. Please feel free to offer your own thoughts, criticisms, advice and words of wisdom in the comment box below.
*Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work. There is no school in South Africa more perfectly matched to my own peculiar blend of quirky individualism. But, like any organization, we do sometimes fall back on some outmoded strategies without fully questioning their relevance. To their credit, my management team does listen to my critiques, and they don’t seem at all averse to change.
Thursday 11 July: An Odd Assortment
Here’s how I think I am going to do The 30 Goals Challenge: I will be fusing some of this year’s group-selected goals with some I have selected from previous years. Because I like numbering things, and because I like my numbers sequential, I may need to finesse things slightly as I go. I will be fusing the group goals with my own, so this list will look different to the one you may find on Facebook and elsewhere. Also, I am not sure I like this year’s theme ‘This is MY Moment’, so I will have to come up with my own. Finally, I might not have exactly 30 goals when I finish, but let’s see how it goes.
Ongoing: Commencing Friday 12th July 2013
I received this message from Shelly yesterday:
Here we go…
1. Define Your Moment
Minutes, Moments and Movements
What is a moment? I suspect that the word is quite often misused to mean some short but unspecified amount of minutes, as in ‘just a moment’ or ‘there was moment when I thought you were a goner’.
Those who use the word to mean a significant occurrence (embrace the ‘moment’) or a euphemism for some kind of psychological break (he’s having a ‘moment’), have blighted the word through over-use. This is a little bit like what’s happened to the words ‘awesome’ and ‘epiphany’ in recent years.
Moment comes from the Latin ‘mōmentum’ – which meant both movement and the cause of the movement. Hence, the word is most correctly used in historical contexts, as in ‘this was a critical moment in World War 2’. The word ‘moment’ is also related to the word ‘momentous’. A moment, in this sense, thus indicates a both a significant break with the past and a meaningful movement in a new direction. It is a hinge-point which influences what is to follow, and one which sustains and pushes that change.
Education is overdue for a moment. As is society. We need a break with the past, and a movement in the direction of personal fulfillment, kindness, justice, parity and environmental sustainability.
When will this moment happen? Who will bring it about? There are many potential candidates – men and women of peace and great minds inspiring great ideas in others. But my feeling is that the great moment in the twenty-first century will be the result of the gradual build-up of a new type of consciousness which embraces the principles of social and environmental justice. It will be a tipping point, a revolution, driven by the collective will of these citizens.
As a teacher, it is my job to see to it that I inspire as many young minds as I can to open their minds, to think deeply and critically about what is going on in the world around them. Simultaneously, I need to encourage them to find creative solutions to small problems, so that they might one day be involved in solving the bigger ones. And throughout all of this, I need to foster in them a sense of confidence, self-worth and the passion to pursue their own dreams. These are the moments I try to create for my students. And I do fail at it quite often. But I do sometimes succeed. I only wish that every moment could be a moment.
2. Avoid Burn-Out
What I’m doing:
- Visit Shelly’s Pinterest Board on Teacher Burnout for ideas. Done!
- Read and gather ideas. Publish best resources on burnout to Pinterest. Done!
- Best finds: The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook (Read a sample here: Lazy Teacher Sample) and Judy Willis talking about teacher burnout from a neurological perspective.
Progress: Research and resource curation completed. It’s nice to have this to go back to from time to time – especially when things start to get a bit frayed!
Date Updated: Saturday 12th July 2013
Reflection: Here’s what Judy Willis has to say:
When experiencing stress, your brain goes into ‘survival mode’
…In the high-stress state, subject’s scans reveal less activity in the higher, reflective brain and more activity in the lower, reactive brain that directs involuntary behaviors and emotional responses. Prolonged stress correlates with structural increases in the density and speed of the neuron-to-neuron connections in the emotion-driven reactive networks of the lower brain, and corresponding decreased connections in prefrontal cortex conscious control centers.
As you internalize your thwarted efforts to achieve your goals and interpret them as personal failure, your self-doubt and stress activate and strengthen your brain’s involuntary, reactive neural networks. As these circuits become the automatic go-to networks, the brain is less successful in problem-solving and emotional control. When problems arise that previously would have been evaluated by the higher brain’s reasoning, the dominant networks in the lower brain usurp control.
The best solution seems to come from games…
Just as the video game model can be applied to building a growth mindset in students, the same model can help rewire your mindset regarding your ability to achieve teaching goals at school. As in the video game model, to get the dopamine-pleasure response from challenges achieved, you’ll need to plan for your brain to experience frequent recognition feedback of incremental progress. You should set your “rewiring” goals by their desirability and by the goals’ suitability to be broken down into clear segments. This way, you can chart your goal progress as you achieve each stepwise challenge. The pleasure burst of intrinsic motivation that will accompany your recognition of each progressive increment achieved in the goal pathway will keep your brain motivated to persevere.
I have actually written about how ‘bad teachers’ can be good for education. Even though I had my tongue firmly in my cheek, I do believe there is great merit in carefully relinquishing control. Being a ‘lazy teacher’ may actually be the best thing for my students as it would encourage responsibility, determination and a sense of co-creation. I will return to this issue when I get to some of the later goals.
Issues: With our Rand / Dollar exchange rate being what it is, even spending more than $10 on Amazon to buy the Kindle edition of The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook feels sinful.