Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami


Disclaimer: I am not being paid by Rami or Heinemann in any way shape or form (but they should definitely feel free to be in touch :P). This book just really was so fabulous, I have to share. If there was ever someone who matched my teacher soul, Rami is it!

I read it over the course of an afternoon, night where I stayed up a bit too late because I couldn't put it down, before the starting school bell the next day, at lunch, during my planning, and that evening. While I read it last year, I find myself returning to this reflection I'd written for its wisdom.

I was hooked from the opening quote (in top of picture collage to the left): "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." - Jalaluddin Rumi

And it just got better from there! Rami, teacher and founder of #engchat humbly puts her highs and lows on public display, and also has the dream-team of mentors and supporters backing her (Chris Lehmann, Jim Burke, Ann Leaness, etc.). Her simple advice isn't anything we haven't heard before, but there's something about the way she presents it, you feel like your best friend teacher soul has risen and come before you in print.

So the down & dirty of her tips:

1. Turn To Mentors
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." -Isaac Newton (1)

She offers the sad truth that only 5% of teachers get support and comprehensive leadership as we should (2)... so for the rest of us? What to do? Build it yourself! "I am aware that I am a sum of all of my mentors" (7). Have many mentors, across many disciplines and networks, there is strength in diversity of disciplines and perspectives!

2. Join & Build Networks
"Educators must be more than information experts; they must be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills alongside their students." -U.S. Department of Education, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology

"Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." -James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (15)

Rami here brings up the idea of networks as a form of social capital, which clearly is of great benefit to a school and networks of teachers who are committed to a shared vision. She also highlights the importance of online learning communities which allow for knowledge to be accessed, created, and shared, and for professional relationships to be built. She also introduces EdCamps as a group of teachers who have created an "unconference" movement -- where it's an organic PD for teachers, by teachers, no mandates or requirements, just there for the love of learning.

"...We are at the precipice of a tipping point in revolutionizing education. There is an underground swell of teachers who want to move away from the factory model of education to education for the next generation of change-agents, from teachers as sages to teachers as co-learners. The challenges that our students will inherit in the forms of poverty, global warming, access to clean water, and wars are going to require empathy, innovation, and creativity. These qualities cannot be tested on a bubble sheet. We must give our students a chance to practice solving complex problems collaboratively so that they are prepared to do so when they leave our classrooms behind." (41)

3. Keep Your Work Intellectually Challenging
"You can teach for twenty years or you can teach the same year twenty times," -Kelly Gallagher (xix)

Fun Fact, research has shown teachers face 1,000 decision points per day (Good & Brophy, 2008). With the overwhelming role of teachers as "managers of complexity" (Brandt, 1986, 5, qtd. 45), how do we stay motivated? She pulls on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's idea of "flow" and Daniel Pink's three-pronged view of motivation: a mix of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We must create our own curriculum to ensure what is best for our students, as learners, as citizens, and as people for which we hold a hand in shaping. She also urges educators to read widely, both in and out of our fields.

"Society is not like a machine that is created at some point in time and then maintained with a minimum of effort; a society is being continuously re-created, for good or ill, by its members. This will strike some as a burdensome responsibility, but it will summon others to greatness." (John W. Gardner, Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner, 1995, qtd. p.59)

4. Listen to Yourself
"When learning and working are dehumanized--when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform-- we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talents, our ideas, and our passion." -Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

"When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." -Rumi (xix)

The silence must end -- we must learn to speak up with courage and override the very common emotion of fear.We must be vulnerable and honest to who we are, and the values we hold, especially in the classroom: "Our identity is bound in the experiences of all those who surround us" (61), and we will not be the teacher we want to be until we find "your selfhood in the classroom" (Palmer, 1997, 7, qtd p. 68).

5. Empower Your Students
"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." -John Dewey, "My Pedagogic Creed"

Empowering students, an idea that scares so many educators, is key to truly thriving. Benefits are innumerable, as Rami lists: increased engagement, building momentum, and creating a lasting legacy. If we are not just to play school, but really engage in learning, empowerment is key.

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