I don’t know about the rest of you, but the screeching halt from 60-70 hour weeks to a completely open schedule can send me into a tailspin! I can usually get caught up on sleep and routine housework within 4-7 days, then I am faced with the jigsaw puzzle of What-do-I-do-with-myself? As much as I love to drink coffee and catch-up on the Today show, that won’t sustain me for 6 weeks of summer break, so I have decided to use this time to grow as a professional. Some things to consider:
- Attend a conference (my favorite is the Teacher Leadership Institute in Tucson)
- Read a book that pushes your thinking
- Sign-up for Twitter and find chats with educators from around the globe
- Take a class at your local community college or university
Two years ago, I accepted the opportunity to be an Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow. I wanted to make an impact beyond my classroom. To speak out on a wider level than my school and district. I wanted to be a voice for my rural community. I saw this as an opportunity to step outside of what happens in my classroom. I teach k-5 general music in a rural community. How could state-level advocacy possibly impact student achievement?
Through the process of achieving National Board Certification and learning the basics of advocacy, I have sharpened my writing skills. I have developed a vocabulary for communicating with people outside of music and education to describe the deep and lasting impacts of my practice on my students’ lives. I have learned to be confident in telling the story of how music impacts reading and math literacy, establishes and practices collaboration and empathy among students, and goes deep into who my students are as people to help them grow into adults who are responsible, contributing members of their community.
Beyond mere communication, these skills have produced concrete advantages for my students. I have written multiple grant proposals through my years of teaching, but until I learned to hone my writing skills, I never had a grant funded. In the last three years, every grant proposal I have written has been funded. The difference was MY WRITING. All of the proposals had fantastic merit for students, but I was unable to communicate their importance in a way that fully described the impact on my students.
I was able to hone those skills into clear, concise, and convincing writing when I found people who would read what I had written and provide honest, constructive feedback. It started with a National Board entry I was re-submitting. I knew that what I submitted the first time was not anywhere close to what it needed to be (the score and feedback I received made that very clear). I asked a colleague who I knew would be brutally honest to read my draft entry. She was BRUTALLY honest…there were entire pages that were crossed out with the comment “This IS NOT _____! Dig deeper.” That hurt, I had poured hours into that writing, and it was nowhere near what was needed. She had accomplished exactly what I had tasked her with: I wanted honest feedback, no sugar coating the truth. So, I went to another colleague that was going through the process with me and said, “Help, I want this to be what it needs to be. I know this is in my classroom and my teaching. Help me find it and use the right words to describe it.” I had to be vulnerable and teachable. I had to be willing to look at my BEST work and learn why it wasn’t good enough, then make it good enough.
Is the process frightening? Overwhelming? Time-consuming? ABSOLUTELY
The reward? My students have a National Board Certified teacher when they go to music class every week. They have a teacher who is constantly reflecting, refining, and learning about them and ways to help them achieve more. They have a teacher who watches a successful lesson and asks “What can I do for these students, at this time, to build on this success?” They have a teacher who does not accept the status quo on anything. If we need more resources, I find a way to get them. If we need parent/community support, I find a way to get it. If we need collaboration from others within or outside of the school, I find it. Beyond my classroom, I have developed relationships throughout Arizona and across the country with amazing educators. I have a deep and varied Professional Learning Network (PLN) that I go to when I have needs outside of my area of expertise. My students benefit from the network also. As I grow and learn, my students benefit from my expanded knowledge of how to meet their needs. The colleagues I have in my building also benefit. Our attitudes are contagious, I want to make sure that mine is going to help rather than hurt the teachers around me!
The willingness to be pruned enabled me to grow stronger as a writer. It was painful and messy at times, but the rewards far outweigh risks.
If this describes you and you are not a National Board Certified Teacher, I challenge you to meditate on why. What is holding you back? What can you do to overcome those obstacles? Reach out to those around you and get their input. Brainstorm with people who are solutions-minded and find the path that is right for you.
What will you do to impact your classroom? You could take a National Board pre-Candidacy Class through the Arizona K12 Center for Professional Development. Get certified as a Google Educator through online training. Find a writing workshop online or in person. Step out of your comfort zone and ask for help.
So while you are contemplating how to fill your time this summer remember to do something that feeds your soul: spend a day at the spa, have lunch with friends, PLAY with your children, take a vacation, find a trail to hike with no cell service…whatever you have been putting off because there simply isn’t enough time. Then give yourself some loose structure to grow and stretch your thinking as a teacher.
In Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline, the main character says, “To be brave, first you must be afraid.” Look your fear in the eye, and make a decision to be brave, you and your students will reap the rewards!
photo credit: https://www.the413mom.com/.a/6a01b8d0ddeb49970c01b8d28edb5f970c-pi
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