a classroom Thanksgiving

In the 1940’s, Maslow said it:

full bellies + safe bodies + happy hearts + thriving self = engaged learning

This week it popped up on my feed:

respect given + respect received = engaged learning

And Friday, it blossomed in my classroom:

family potluck + words of gratitude = engaged learning

Actually, I don’t know yet, for sure, with quantitative numbers and qualitative studies, if my Friday activity will result in engaged learning. But I just don’t care.

Because it meant so much more.

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These words are the sentiments from the students after our Thanksgiving celebration as a classroom family. We began by writing notes of gratitude to each other. Each student had a poster, and as we sat family-style, we passed them around and wrote words of encouragement, thankfulness, and praise–light–to each other.

As usual, at first there was confusion and chaos, as is the case with any newly initiated task in any high school, anywhere. But then it got quieter and quieter, more focused and more heavy as the students felt the weight of giving this joy. There were traffic jams as some students wrote more, meanwhile side chit-chats and songs and obnoxious complaining and sessions of giggles popped up elsewhere.

You know–family bonding.

Then we feasted. Homemade donuts and posole and cake and arroz and enchiladas and perogies…yep, my students know how to do it right.

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And while we feasted, we gave thanks. We whipped around the circle (rectangle, really) and shared, through many tentative tears and much hearty laughter, what we are thankful for this holiday season.

I’m grateful for my parents.

I’m alone at home; but when I come here I’m not.

You make me smile…and that’s pretty important.

I don’t have a family at home, and you have shown me I have one here.

Yep, it got me “in the feels” too (as my kiddos say). It was a good day in the classroom.

It was a good day as a human.

 

the fault lines of leadership

For all of my career, I have sworn til I was blue in the face that I would not, could not, should not become an administrator. No sir-re-bob, that is not for me. After taking on more of a leadership role this year at school, that stance has only been confirmed.

Though I was coaching last year and assisting another coach with our department, my leadership was, in essence, lateral. I’d like to believe that those I helped because of an official “title” were few, but those I helped because of a desire to be a great teacher were more–hopefully the majority.

This year, though, with more of a presence on and duty to our larger, systematic leadership configurations, I cannot seem to find the good in what I’m doing… whether it’s the good in my teaching, the good in my coaching, the good in my facilitation, the good in my thinking, or the good in my outcomes. I am discouraged by my inability to affect change where I think I should have that capacity. I am overwhelmed with hearing over and over the frustrations from those I care about deeply–the very frustrations that mirror my own–while not being able to do anything to influence the context which perpetuates those frustrations. I am disheartened by the systematic revolving door of external pressures that weigh our administration down, thus weighing down our internal building processes.

All of this sharply reminds me that the problem with education today is not people. Those teachers I am honored to coach; the colleagues I work side by side with in the trenches, who keep me sane; as well as the leadership I follow; these people all weave threads of joy and inspiration and light throughout my days. Rather to blame are the systems that shackle those people. Systems of evaluation. Systems of accountability. Systems of turnarounds and move overs and reach arounds. And we wonder why national teacher attrition is so high and moral so low!

And the straw that breaks the camel’s back is my missing students. Daily I split classes with two remarkable co-teachers, and after 50 minutes of the block, I just walk right out of the door–an exit that feels more emotional than physical. For those of you who have followed my writing here on lifeinthedport, you know that my students are my lifeblood, my purpose, my ministry, my joy. And so to struggle with systematic constraints while simultaneously missing quality time with my own students in my own classroom is literally. killing. me.

And because my career teaching is my identity, the tremors echo throughout all other areas of my life. I have noticed a rise in my anxiety, in my depression. My appetite is ferocious and my clothes tight. I am negative and critical and cynical and complain way too much. I have stopped writing.

Which explains this post, the one that breaks the two-month silence. Not happy, not pretty, but real. And hopefully the beginning of my mapping a way through this new land.

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