We often treasure how spring and summer bloom with the promise of new beginnings, renewal, growth, and hope. But to what extent do we recognize that September brings forth the very same gifts?… I say this while, with lingering nostalgia, I succumb to letting go of August sunset glows, lakeside strolls, and bonfire flames… because one thing I know for sure is that for every ending there is a new beginning.
September is our new beginning, yet a beautiful continuation of our lives. It is that time of year we embrace the imminent unknowns of a brand new school year with great anticipation. As parents, we question if our child will be happy and supported. As students, we wonder if we’ll be accepted by our peers. As educators, we ponder if we will best serve the needs of each child in our care.
Along my journey as an educator, the more layers I uncover the more I wonder about, question and reflect on. Today, we have the privilege of being ‘connected learners’ in that we can learn with and from one another anytime, anywhere, in person, virtually, day or night… if we so choose. We can either isolate ourselves in separate spaces or tap into the wealth of knowledge and creativity that’s out there while modeling that we are all learners and in this together.
As I continue on in this journey, here are some learning gems I’ve collected along the way.
Establish Trusting Relationships
Education is a human profession and relationships lie at the very core of everything we do. Before any learning can happen, trusting relationships must be established. As educators, we are given the incredible platform through which we can make a difference in the life of every child who crosses our path. We have the unique opportunity to start each day by looking someone in the eye and saying, “I believe in you. I’m here for you. You can do it.” – and truly mean it.
So, before making a connection to the mind, we must first make a connection to the heart. The late Dr. Maya Angelou states it beautifully when she says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” By reflecting on how our students feel each day, we come one step closer to providing the safe and caring learning environment they so greatly deserve and through which they can achieve, flourish and shine.
Sometimes, it is not till long after our students have left our building do we recognize the impact they’re making on the world as a result of the impact we made on their world growing up, day in and day out. Every moment counts and every relationship matters.
Get To Truly Know Each Learner
Students come to school wanting to succeed. They want to be heard, acknowledged, valued, and respected. They want to contribute and engage in meaningful tasks while gauging with purpose and pride. But before we focus on the learning, we must first focus on the learner.
As educators, we know the importance of getting to know each student’s interests, learning styles and readiness in order to best meet their needs. Important, though, is to ask, “What is best for this learner right now?” Perhaps the answer to this question should be, “Start by asking the learner.”
The school day is filled with rote questions we ask students to tackle, but how often are those questions meaningful to their lives? How often are those questions thought-provoking and inspirational?… And if so, how often do we stop long enough to genuinely hear out their thoughts and opinions and really seek to understand? If our aim is to engage our students, we must shift from asking and telling to actually listening.
We work to establish a positive sense of community where everyone is encouraged to be inquisitive, creative, collaborative, and a risk taker. But how much time do we dedicate to student voice? If we stop and think about it, student voice is the gateway to engagement, empowerment, and growth. When given the opportunity, student voice rises loud and clear in many different forms; through oral language, digital expression, gestures, the arts and so much more. Whatever the form, a story is shared, and once stories are shared, their impact is boundless.
Before inviting others to share their story, it’s encouraging to start by sharing our own.
Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
As educators, we preach that “learning is messy” for many good reasons (while discretely trying to avoid the temptation and illusion of perfection and control ourselves). What we need to do, in truth, is live by our message and strategically let go of the reigns. Occasionally, we need to step away from what is familiar and comfortable in order to discover new unforeseen grounds. It starts with having faith in our surroundings and the people in it.
The most influential people I know are those who thoughtfully put their faith and trust in others. They are the kindest, most humble people in the room. They are the ones who will talk the least and listen the most. They are the ones who certainly have the greatest courage.
With courage and grace, these leaders build others up. With guidance, they encourage and empower by tapping into people’s strengths. With transparency, they ask questions and seek answers with substantial findings. With humility, they are comfortable with being uncomfortable as they explore the uncertain and discover the incredible.
If we provide a learning environment in which our students gain a strong sense of belonging, confidence and support in pursuing their passions, interests and aspirations, we will witness their transformation in becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Perhaps one day they will take chances and notice that along the way they may, just may, discover new and exciting realms they had never imagined existed.
Through risk there lies resiliency. Through resiliency, hope. And through hope, success beyond our wildest dreams. It has been said time and again, “Teaching is not about making a living. It’s about making a difference.” With September upon us as our new beginning, yet a beautiful continuation of our lives, there is a resounding truth echoing in our hearts that this is our chance to make a difference in the world. So let’s listen and remember that we are all learners and in this together… That’s my ultimate learning gem… What’s yours?