Posted in brene brown, dare to lead, reading, school, teacher, teacher-research, values

Pinpointing my Values

I’m at a major transition point in my teaching career that’s having a ripple effect to all areas of my life. A month ago the elementary school where I’d worked for six years closed permanently. I grew up there. I began as an assistant, went to graduate school and did my student teaching there, and then settled into teaching k/1. This place not only molded me into the teacher that I am today but also in many ways the human that I am. Needless to say, the goodbye was incredibly emotional. 

Next year I’m moving into a new position (teaching 4th grade!) at a new school. I’m so grateful, nervous, excited, and unsure of what to expect! In times of uncertainty like these, I find myself often grasping for things that I can “count on.” What will ground me in this new space? 

Recently, I was talking with a colleague and friend about this and she reminded me of a tool that Brene Brown has in her book Dare to Lead that helps to clarify personal values. Brene walks the reader through a step by step process of identifying the values that matter most to us and then whittling down and categorizing them until we are left with the two that are most prominent in our lives. I read Dare to Lead when it first came out but have not returned to this exercise since then. Being at such a different point in life now and finding myself searching for a sense of stability and the “known,” I decided to go through this exercise again to pinpoint my top two values. Here’s how it works: 

1). Print off this list of values, write in any values that are missing, and highlight the ones that feel most important to you. Brene emphasizes the importance of focusing on yourself personally rather than thinking about what you value for others (ex: as a teacher, it’s easy to fall into determining “what I value for my students”– keep it personal)

2). Once you’ve highlighted the ones that are most important to you (I highlighted 39…!) re-read them and begin to eliminate some that don’t feel as important as others and/or categorize them into groups. It was helpful for me to identify a few “umbrella” values that I thought encompassed others. I drew a crazy web of arrows to think through this myself. For example, I highlighted “balance” and “home” and, on a second read through, decided that “home” fit inside of “balance” because when I feel most balanced I have time at home to be with loved ones. So I drew an arrow from “home” to “balance.”

3). If you have more than two big umbrella values after re-reading through your highlights, go through an additional round. Continue eliminating and/or categorizing until you are left with the two values that feel most important to you now, in your current phase of life. In Dare to Lead, Brene talks about how we can use this exercise at different points in our lives and our values will change as we shift and grow.

At the end of the exercise, I was left with balance and authenticity

I’m planning to do some journaling about each this week to unpack a bit more about what these words mean in the current context of my life…personally, professionally, in community with others. As I prepare to step into a new school year and experience at the end of August, I’m curious how I might prioritize these in my work with colleagues and children. 

What are your top two values?

How will you be intentional about prioritizing them in all facets of your life?

Posted in Uncategorized

Bring Your Whole Self

I believe that school should be a place where children are invited to bring their whole selves each day. Whether they didn’t get enough sleep the night before and are feeling tired, or they’re super excited about a birthday party coming up and can’t focus on much else, or the morning was rushed and breakfast was missed and they’re overly hungry and need a snack first thing, or they’re having a disagreement with a friend that’s hijacking them emotionally and they just need time and support to problem solve…I want my classroom to be a place where children know they can show up just as they are and deeply trust that they are welcomed and valued by me and their community of peers.

Sounds super wonderful, right? As an adult I crave spaces and friendships like this. Where I know I matter and am loved and valued for all of who I am, not just the “fun,” “clean” or “easy to deal with” parts. Being a human is messy and it’s life changing when you find humans who, instead of avoiding the tough stuff, are courageous enough to embrace the mess with you. 

I’ve been re-reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and following along with her six week summer series on the book. As I read, I find myself thinking a lot about my intention to cultivate a classroom space like this and the intense and raw vulnerability that we have to embrace as humans just to be our authentic selves. In her Daring Classrooms talk Brene connects these ideas to the classroom when advises her audience of teachers:

“Do not ever question the power you have with the people you teach. Learning is inherently vulnerable. It’s like you’ve got a classroom full of turtles without shells, the minute they put the shell back on they’re protected from their peers from the teacher or whomever, but no learning can come in. Without vulnerability there’s no learning.

I hear Brene saying that the seemingly simple act of showing up to school ready to connect and learn is vulnerable and courageous. Being open and willing to listen to others’ ideas, share your own ideas, question, feel uncertain, stay curious, open to surprise and wonder, be in relationship with others, grow understanding, and mess up…all of this is inherently vulnerable. If school is a space where children feel they must be perfect or hide parts of themselves, they won’t learn. 

Photo by Lucia Macedo on Unsplash

Letting the full gravity of this sink in, I catch myself grasping for certainty here. How can I know for sure that my classroom is a place where children will risk vulnerability and show up as themselves? Isn’t there like a checklist or something that I can go through and, if all the boxes are checked, I will know for sure that the children in my class are having this experience? Why hasn’t Brene written that yet!? 

And then, as I’m reminded about the importance of relationships in the classroom, I find my footing again. Although, the ground isn’t quite as solid and firm as my desire for certainty might like it to be! I think it’s all a dance. A back and forth and side to side swaying of checking in with each other, genuinely valuing difference in perspectives and ideas, embracing curiosity and rejecting judgment, resisting the urge to be certain about another’s experience and instead striving to understand more, risking being wrong, sitting in the discomfort of repair work and hard emotions, and having courageous conversations. I want to support children to show up in these ways for each other at school. As the teacher I have a responsibility to show up and center this in every interaction I have with children and colleagues. 

What do you think it means for school to be a place where children are invited to bring their whole selves?

What connections do you see between vulnerability and learning?

Posted in christina baldwin, intentions, play, reading, reggioemilia, school, story, storycatcher, teacher, teacher-research, Uncategorized

Valuing Story

Have you jumped into a good book yet this summer? One of my favorite summer routines is waking up and reading while I drink my coffee in the morning. It sets a calm tone for my day and as I go about the day I find myself making connections to what I read that morning. The first book I’ve cracked into this summer is Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin. I was immediately drawn to the title because of how much I value story in my personal life and in the classroom.

In Storycatcher, Baldwin writes about how telling stories is the most natural way humans invite others into their individual experiences of the world. When someone shares a story with us, we have the opportunity to accept an invitation into their narrative. If we remain present in these moments and truly listen with an intent to understand, someone else’s story can take us on a journey through our own memories in search of connections that allow us to understand and empathize with the other person more deeply. Baldwin claims that story is the truest and most authentic way for us to connect with each other.

This definitely feels true in my personal experience. I can think of many times I’ve been reading or half listening to a podcast on something informational. When the sharer dips into a story to elaborate on the information, I notice myself start to follow more closely. As I follow the story I often feel more invested and interested in what comes next. I care more on a personal level because I feel more connected to the person that’s sharing.  

Source: Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin

There are so many rich opportunities for these dynamics to play out in the classroom community. Children enter into the classroom on their very first day as whole human beings, already filled with stories and a desire to connect with others. The most important message that I can send to them as their teacher is that school is a place where their stories matter. And that their individual stories are what write the collective story of our community. Story is alive, growing, and shifting for individuals and the whole community at all points in the day whether being shared and heard or not. 

This can play out in so many ways at school. One scenario (that I know I’ve experienced) has been playing through my mind as I write this. Have you ever fallen into the trap of calling out a few children’s names more often than others? Specifically when you’re redirecting behavior? I know I have made this mistake many times without even realizing it (thank goodness for colleagues who reflect back to me these patterns when they notice them!). For whatever reason, I might be tired or hungry and I lose sight of the many ways I can offer behavior support that don’t involve verbal prompting in front of other children.

When I make this mistake (and worse, when patterns develop) that individual child’s story about who they are at school is shifting and so is the collective story that the community holds. It doesn’t matter what story I hold inside of who that child is. As a teacher, I am naturally in a position of power. If I continue to draw attention to an individual because of something I view as “negative” or “needing to stop” I am contributing to this child’s personal story and the community’s collective story of who that child is.

Small decisions in moments that might seem otherwise insignificant have the potential to create big ripples for the individual and collective. While there is potential for school to contribute to harmful stories, if handled intentionally and with care, I believe school can be a place where children discover more about who they are individually, share their stories, see their stories reflected back to them in their community, and learn more about themselves and others through listening to stories.

As I try to imagine what next year’s class might be like, I want to commit to intentionality around story in my practice. I have a lot of questions moving through my mind: 

  • How does the classroom community’s story of who an individual is influence that individual’s story of themselves? How can the community serve as a mirror for the individual? 
  • What stories about who they are will these children already arrive at school with? Where did these stories come from? How might these stories begin to play out in this new learning community?
  • How does the collective story shift with the growth of its individual members? What structures support a community to remain flexible to shift as the individual members grow? 

What are you pondering about story?

Posted in intentions, play, reggioemilia, school, teacher, teacher-research

What is my intention?

If I were to count how many times I pause to ask myself this question during the school day the answer would be at least ten. I’d like to share with you a bit about why this question feels so central to my work as a teacher and why I’m reflecting on this question in my very first blog post. 

I value play as children’s most natural learning strategy. I practice inquiry based research as a teacher and co-construct curriculum with children. All of this means that there isn’t a script or pre-planned curriculum for what we do in the classroom from day-to-day. Rather, I set intentions on a large scale (ex: for the year), a smaller scale (ex: week(s) at a time), and daily (ex: each curriculum block). My intentions are informed by the specific children I’m working with and a variety of other factors that I’m sure I’ll write more about later on. My intentions guide the questions I ask, provocations I offer, what I bring back to the children, and decisions that I make as a teacher. 

This practice of being guided by intentions is messy. Anyone who has taught young children knows that there can easily be fifteen different things happening at once in the classroom! In the last hour of our day in my kindergarten/first grade blend I often had children building structures in blocks, writing stories, playing with tiny characters in small world, painting, exploring sensory materials, creating costumes with fabric, acting in dramatic play, reading books, and enjoying math games…all at the same time! In times like these there’s an abundance of movement, joy, conflict, messiness, and rich ideas. I often find myself wishing I could be in ten places at once because I want to listen in on all the work the children are doing (in fact, I often stick recording devices in different areas of the room so I can get a peek into what’s happening in each space). After the children leave for the day I spend time going through my notes, looking at pictures I captured, listening and transcribing any audio I recorded, and considering next steps. As you can imagine, there are endless possibilities because the children have energy around so many different ideas!

One day a few years ago I recall the group in blocks thinking about building an RV. After paying attention to these ideas I thought, “maybe I should invite them to share their plan with the whole group during meeting tomorrow and energize this idea?” Across the room, the group at dramatic play was playing doctor and I heard a lot of language around “taking care” emerging. I wondered if we should unpack the word care and all the layers of understanding that live inside meeting another’s needs. Also, children at math games bumped into a conflict around turn taking and fairness that didn’t get fully resolved. Knowing we’d need to return to this, I considered asking that group to bring their problem to the whole community so we could think together…the possible threads to follow go on and on and on! 

Photo by Peter Idowu on Unsplash

We can’t focus on them all. I mean, we could try. But at the very least this would cause our work to be scattered and make it tough to dive deeply in anything because we were trying to focus on everything. Depth matters. Slowing down matters. Complexity matters. So, as a teacher, how do I choose next steps? What will I bring back to the children and, most importantly, why am I choosing to energize that thing? 

My intentions offer a path forward in these moments. When I hold my intention at the forefront and view the children’s work through the lens of my teacher-research intentions, I am able to make well informed choices and articulate why I’m following a certain path. Depending on what my intentions are, there is good reason to follow any of these possibilities! Maybe my intention is to support children to practice slowing down and drafting their ideas as writers, so the RV design process would make the most sense to zoom in on. Or, if my intention was for children to practice empathy and get curious about the needs of others before taking action, I might bring them a book like Dog Party by Mikela Prevost to spark dialogue around the complexity of needs. And, if my intention was for children to develop strategies for collaborative problem solving, perhaps we use a class meeting structure to think about issues of fairness that emerged in math games. 

Each of these holds the potential for rich, authentic experiences! There isn’t a wrong choice here. But there is a choice that makes the most sense when I view it through the lens of my intentions. (Not to make things more complicated, BUT I do want to mention that choosing a path doesn’t mean all other ideas are pushed aside. I might choose to explore care with a book AND continue to put out inspiring RV construction materials even if I’m not fully zoomed in on all the play in that space, because I know there’s value in the collaborative design that group of children are engaged in.)

Intentions guide what I’m paying attention to and listening for, the choices I make, emerging plans, and future projections for the work. They are the lens I look through as I observe the children’s ideas, questions, inventions, and the themes that emerge in their play. They are the sifter that I shake all the classroom happenings through. They are the foundation. They ground me.

This blog is a new kind of space that I occupy that’s very different from the classroom. And still I’m left wondering, what will ground me here? I’m venturing into this new territory where there are endless possibilities for what I might write about and prioritize. What are my intentions? Here are some preliminary thoughts: 

  • connect with a community of teachers and humans who love and value children
  • engage with people who push my level of understanding
  • process curiosities, places of tension, questions, and experiences that arise in the classroom
  • reflect…reflect…reflect! 

How do intentions inform your work as a teacher? 

What are your intentions as a blogger?