As we prepare our rooms, hallways, and schools for the return of students, are we spending the same amount of time intentionally planning how we’re going to meet our own needs as lifelong learners? In order for us to meet the needs of children and their families, we need to make sure we’ve identified ways we can improve as educators by intentionally developing guidelines to meet the goals we set out for ourselves.
If we have specific educational guidelines that we follow on a day-to-day basis, it will be easier to hold true to the intentions we set for ourselves. Two ways we can do this are by: returning to the goals we set for ourselves on a regular, prescribed basis, and modeling ourselves based on the people we know who already do well what we would like to improve upon.
Consistent reflection -- a personal check-in -- allows us to be honest with ourselves about our progress towards our goals. What decisions did we make this week that have helped us move forward? Which decisions kept us in traction or forced us to take a step back? Which decisions are we utterly embarrassed by? (Like, for example, telling someone we admire their suit looks like an animal’s hide?). These honest conversations do not even need to be shared with anyone we know. This narrative is personal to us, and will help us define ourselves as we grow and progress with intention.
Reflecting and learning from personal experience is the best teacher, and will aid us in our journey. The next best teachers are those who have learned and reflected from their own personal experiences. These people enable us to learn vicariously through their successes and missteps, so we repeat one, but not the other. While there are many strong mentors available both on-site and virtually, it’s important to match our identified areas for intentional growth with the skill set and experience of potential mentors.
For example, my three goals for this school year are to: communicate effectively and efficiently to all families, continue to innovate in my pedagogical practice, and consistently teach with heart. I’ve identified three peers, each a strong overall educator, but exceptional in one of the areas I’m looking to develop in myself. I’ve listed each educator below, with a quick synopsis of who they are, and how they will help:
1. Dr. Tim Purnell (@schoolsup) is the Superintendent of Schools in Somerville, New Jersey. His belief in open, on-going, multiple 21st century modalities to communicate with families and stakeholders is evident on his district’s website. Tim’s imprint in transparent communication is evident: he podcasts to share information, blogs about decisions made to benefit the school district (and rationale for making them), and creates YouTube videos explaining student academic options or sharing examples of teachers modeling best practices. The best though, is his signature tweet, “#allin4theville.” Families, constituents, and stakeholders know this means that the faculty and staff of Somerville Schools will do whatever it takes to support the growth of their students.
Families who cannot make events or board meetings can share their thoughts by completing surveys, or even calling to arrange a meeting with Tim. The person’s voice you hear when you call the main number for Somerville Public Schools? You guessed it: Dr. Tim Purnell. It’s that attention to detail in building foundationally strong relationships which earned him 2015 New Jersey State Superintendent of the Year. And, the bonus of me pestering him with questions on LinkedIn.
2. Glenn Robbins (@glennr1809) is the Middle School Principal at Northfield Middle School, in Northfield, New Jersey. Glenn’s focus on soccer growing up put academics on the back burner. The WAY back burner. It wasn’t until a high school knee injury and summers digging wells, that changed his view of himself, and of his role in education. Now, the “student who didn’t care and came from a family that didn’t value academics”, is working on his doctorate, and innovating daily in his building. His recent creation: changing the hallways into ‘Idea Streets,’ with Lego walls, exercise bikes, whiteboards, and aquarium. Teachers are expected to use the hallway as an additional learning space, and students are expected to use the equipment to do it. If any of the equipment malfunctions, the student Tech Squad, manned at their surfboard table, can help. I know I’ll be asking an equal amount of questions to Glenn and his student Tech Squad as they implement Idea Streets.
3. Nicholas Ferroni (@nicholasferroni) is a Union High School social studies teacher by title. He is a student whisperer in reality. Nick, a former soap opera star, turned down a lucrative role to serve as Susan Lucci’s love interest in order to teach at the high school he went to. Not only does he teach there, he lives in town. He was chosen by People Magazine as one of the Most Influential Educators, Fittest Men in the World, and Sexiest Teacher Alive. He writes for Huffington Post. He is working on a History Channel show. He’s had Maxwell, Seth Gilliam, and supermodel Brittany Mason surprise his students with a guest appearance during class. When we go out to eat, he even pays. So, what does he do for fun? He keynotes for student voice and women’s rights organizations. He hands out clothing to the homeless. And, he makes sure that each student in his classroom graduates. It’s a prerequisite. His philanthropic nature and singular-minded approach to positively influencing student lives, is what will make me text message him when I have a question about the best ways to meet the needs of students. And, how to keep my mind focused on my educational intentions when I get down on myself.
As you set goals for the school year, think about how you can be intentional, reflective, and accountable in meeting them. Having good intentions is one thing. Being intentional on a day to day basis to meet these goals is another. Make sure to give yourself opportunities to fail and learn, and leverage the people around you in real and virtual space to support you in your mission. We may work independently, but we do grow together. How will you be #allin for yourself and students this school year? I will by being honest with myself, and those around me.