Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Part I: Getting Uncomfortable To Create Change

I keep seeing and hearing the phrase ‘Change The World’ in some capacity in everything that I consume. It’s happened enough times now that I am finally taking a minute to stop and listen to the universe. The phrase is present in conversations I have, books I’m reading (as I am writing this I turned my head to the book sitting next to me - Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds - and the back cover says, ‘How You Gon’ Change The World?’), and podcasts I’m listening to. It has a deeper meaning for me than just being a cheesy cliche. During my first year of teaching when I lived at home with my parents, every morning before I left for work my dad would shout, “Love you, change someone’s life today!” He still continues to say it to me to this day and it is something that I carry with me all the time.

Last year was the first year that I can say with 100% certainty that I changed the lives of the fifteen amazing special education students in my class. I had my best teaching year yet because I focused on the needs, interests and strengths of my kids rather than simply getting through curriculum. We did collaborative projects, had powerful and important conversations, and focused a lot on reflection and social emotional work. Fast forward to this year where I’m teaching a class of only four students - a monumental challenge that I have managed to make successful thus far. Even though they are ‘only four’ students, having them in my class is an opportunity to change four more lives.

But I want to make change on a bigger scale than just in my classroom. I want to change my school, community, and beyond. And I want to do it NOW. But I often feel trapped within my current system, situation, and school. I’m ready for a big change in a big way. I want to surround myself with like-minded people who have the same goals. While there are small pockets of progressive and forward thinking educators at my school, we are in the minority. So, in an effort to feel more connected and try to make change, I joined two school committees this year - the SEL (social emotional learning) committee and the Instructional Rounds committee (colleague observations).

At this week’s Instructional Rounds meeting, we discussed goals and next steps, which are to continue collecting data to explore questioning in classes on the part of both teachers and students. Last year’s observation data showed that there was very little higher level questioning being done in most classes. As we were having this conversation about the next round of research and observation, I vocalized my concerns: If we are aware that this is a weakness, wouldn’t our time be better spent brainstorming ways to remedy these issues rather than continuing to collect data? Shouldn’t we be turning inward and observing each other and then focusing on helping one another change and improve our instruction? The response I got made me grind my teeth in frustration. In short: Change is scary and we don’t want to rock the boat with an already apprehensive and resistant staff.

While I understand that there is a time and place for methodical, paced change, something more drastic needs to happen to truly shift culture and create long lasting positive change. Being courageous and getting uncomfortable is the only way that we are going to make these changes. The danger in slow & steady is that it is safe. It is not disruptive or bold enough to create truly innovative change. We can't expect different results by doing the same thing we've always done. So I will forge forward and continue to innovate within my own student-centered classroom while searching for additional ways to create a bigger positive impact in the not so distant future.

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