where meaningful connections made all the difference.
A week in the life of this work begins and ends behind the wheel.
I’m spending enough hours on the road now to have true reflection time built into my day for the first time in fifteen years of this work. I like to think I’ve always been critically reflective about my teaching and learning, but I now have a commute to and from work that really demands it.
I’m fortunate enough to have a meditative drive, crawling out of our Driftless valley home every morning around dawn and following the contours of the Mississippi River north to meaningful and purposeful work in a district that has been welcoming and warm, albeit seventy minutes away. Evenings pull me back to this place, one of my favorite spots in all this grand universe: our family’s small farmstead. It’s the place I’ve known from my first weeks of life as home.
My current position wasn’t where I began my teaching career; actually, far from it. But it’s where I’ve landed most recently, and I’m so very, very happy to be here, despite missing the children, colleagues, families and work from my former positions nearly every single day.
I should say a bit about my start in teaching too now. That there were those very tentative first steps I took as an educator in a beautiful-old giant of a brick school on the northwest side of Chicago: a school and a city that continue to hold big pieces of my heart. Those first years of work as a teacher still call out to me regularly in remembered fragments on these drives. More now than ever, it has been to remember what it was to discover true love of this really, really difficult work. I miss those faces and voices. They informed me so much about education and the danger of schooling at the launch of my career, a fragile time for any educator.
I was almost one of the ones couldn’t stay in this field.
Fifteen years in, I’m so grateful for that strong launch. I hope to share about that part of my journey here and there.
But back to the present and the magic of connection.
I love my social media connections for they have sustained me and fueled my practice as an educator more than I can really explain (thank you, dear sweet Ellie and brother Eric for pushing me in all those moons ago!). However, this week gave me face to face conversations and three very important phone calls that fixed a bunch of things in my focus. Cemented them, really.
I’ll share them here at Diagnosis Schoolosis in a series of posts that may allow you to get to know the two fundamentals of my practice in education: connection and conversation. I’m firm in my stance on these fundamentals. I’ve determined that they are the most essential pieces to surviving and thriving in learning environments.
And I know that these two things are what every human being needs and deserves.
Connection and Conversation, Part 1
A friend called me on my way to work Monday morning. She and I have collaborated for the last decade on the work and questions of meeting social and emotional learning needs of young learners within the context of schools and classrooms. She’s one of the reasons I still work as an educator, and our regular commuter conversations are partially responsible for this blog.
It’s really all in the small.
Jenny works with students who have developed extreme schoolosis. She is a
kid whisperer human whisperer. Jenny’s keen observational sense and absolute ability to hold fast to calm compassion in the midst of human crisis, suffering, and the kind of learning that could never be assessed on a standardized test is something you should know about. I’ll tell more about her and hope she’ll come here to share sometimes as we go. She’s one of my most important teachers.
Jenny’s phone call Monday was grounding on a week that didn’t feel very promising. It was a day where temperatures leaned toward spring, but I knew they wouldn’t hold there, for deep cold and bad driving conditions were forecasted again. I was hard at work pushing away the unsettled feeling that comes with seasonal change as I loaded up for the long days and week ahead. And it was a Monday that I wanted to avoid for various other niggling reasons. All resources were spent on moving mindfully through the discomfort and staying centered. (Hah. I never seem to quite pull that off!)
One connection with Jenny set it all in perspective.
She shared some smalltalk tidbits from her recent staff development training. From there, the day changed. We began to talk about how the biggest moments of learning are actually those that most folks will never see. She spoke about a tiny shift in the behavior of one of her students, one that came after months and months of relationship-building, modeling, scaffolding and practicing. How it led to a peace in the classroom where she caught the students problem-solving in a simple conversation rather than duking it out through one-upmanship and bickering.
“But no one saw it,” she said. “No one really could or would.”
And she’s right. The kind of teaching and assessment Jenny does on a minute-by-minute basis in her work with young humans is so nuanced that to an untrained eye, absolutely nothing takes place. Some even dare to imply to her face that nothing is taking place. I’ve been in those phone conversations with her too, where judgment without knowing the speciality of her art and practice pokes into her faith and belief in her work and threatens it.
Every time I hear her begin one of those conversations (and they usually begin with, “Robin, people just don’t get this work!”), I brace myself, for I know that something beautiful and precious will be shared, and I will need to reflect it back to her as powerfully as I might so she can remember that it was real. And I know that people truly rarely want to see what she so amazingly can see.
So Jenny shared a small growth in one of her schoolosis-sufferers, and I knew that I could soldier on through this uncomfortable Monday and make something good of it by looking for the small things, tending them, and remembering that they count more than numbers on a page and data sets, late reports, misplaced power cords.