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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"When you're authentic, so is your art." - Sarah Breathnach

When I was a new teacher, I came to my first teaching position with a tremendous sense of excitement. I was ready to embrace all that the work had to offer. I had many ideas about how I wanted to set up my classroom, which included a playhouse, blocks and easels. I wanted to teach concepts in new and authentic ways. Sometimes I couldn't slow down enough to get to sleep!

This excitement carried on, even as I met my class co-teacher, who didn't quite share my enthusiasm. Where I had visions of original student easel paintings hanging on the walls, she wanted to post copied color book pages. Where I made room to display original clay figures that I envisioned the students creating, she brought in plastic cartoon characters, and lined them on the shelves. We were not a good match.

You see, I had a dream of teaching authentically and guiding my students to exciting discoveries. In comparison, my co-teacher was convinced that the best way to teach her students was to play it safe and "stay between the lines." It was a very tough first year for me.

Feeling Vulnerable

It takes a certain measure of vulnerability, as a new teacher, to decide that you'll make every effort to think and teach "outside the box" and be authentic. I got my share of licks that first year, not only from my co-teacher, but also from others in my grade level who were sure I was nuts! How was it that I couldn't see fit to teach with a stack of the worksheets they kept in classroom closets? Where was I going to find the space to house paint and easels? Who was going to buy the clay? Why did I insist on wanting to teach contrary to the team model?

My colleagues should have accepted the authentic ways that I wanted to teach my students, but they didn't. Instead of comparing my teaching style to theirs, they should have just made peace with it, but they couldn't. They were addicted to comparisons and checking on how they measured up to others -- a very painful combination.

At times, I felt so vulnerable that it took all my courage to get through the day. But I persisted -- not for me, but more importantly for my students.

Being Authentic

The shortcoming of comparison runs deep in the lives of many. You see it in schools every day. Each classroom has the same commercial wall poster so as to keep with conformity and structure. The fear that posting something authentic on the wall will not be acceptable -- let alone something in the form of a curriculum strategy -- keeps educators from taking the step to act. Sometimes being authentic and teaching in more creative ways is going to feel uncomfortable. But that shouldn't that always be our goal?

I believe that teaching is an art. And when you accept this artistic assignment, don't let anyone take it away from you. Be that unique teacher you were born to be, and share your experience and passion with your students. Try out those great ideas that are percolating, and watch the magic happen in your classroom. Persevere in spite of any fears that your activity might not be the best one. It's OK! Through choosing authenticity, you will be able to grow as an educator and, through that work, create meaningful experiences with your students.

Are you ready to commit to teach with authenticity? Will you be able to stay vulnerable in the process? Take a look at How to Get Students Ready for Learning, an Edutopia video that speaks to issues of relationship building with students and encourages teachers to be truly authentic.

Back to School Blog Series
Back to school tips and strategies to help you rock the new year!

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

There's so much I appreciate about this post! To be fully present with our students requires a degree of vulnerability that can be both terrifying and inspiring. Brene Brown's work on this subject is really fascinating in that, like you, she recognizes the strength required to be truly present- to "show up, be our authentic selves, and be truly seen" in our lives. She also explores the ways that a desire for connection is hard-wired into our brains. What better time than back-to-school for a reminder that we're all (kids and adults alike) seeking to connect with other human beings?

You can hear learn Brene talk about her work at http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Tom Campbell's picture
Tom Campbell
teacher, college adjunct

Lots of food for thought in this post. Thank you. The challenge I hear:

"My colleagues should have accepted the authentic ways that I wanted to teach my students, but they didn't. Instead of comparing my teaching style to theirs, they should have just made peace with it, but they couldn't. They were addicted to comparisons and checking on how they measured up to others -- a very painful combination."

I believe this amplifies us a few opportunities. Firstly, it's not only our children who are being measured but most of us in most practices, both inside and outside of education. We are all beautifully unique and reach our full potential through myriad paths. So the various architectures that comprise a school needs to be malleable, fluid and negotiable: the structure must always shelter the needs of the current inhabitants. We all have to own it!

Secondly, work is a participatory, rarely a solo practice. While we seek to be authentic, (and hopefully humble too), we first need to be adaptive and willing to work together to create the best environ for each member of the community.

Thus, the art of listening and collaboration needs to be understood and learned; championed by leadership; time needs to be set for this important work: you don't show up one day after teaching in "your classroom" for XX years and begin collaborating. Let's keep practicing and learning.

Tom Julius's picture

Lisa,
You have pulled back the curtain on one of the dynamic tensions for new teachers - how to be one's authentic self and part of a team, both at the same time. Schools as organizations depend on a balance of this dynamic tension for long-term sustainability. Too much conformism and the school is a desert-like status quo environment. Too many mavericks and the school is all bluster with no place to feel grounded and secure. The goal is to create a school where the organizational flow allows for both. That takes vision and gumption on the part of all.

(1)
Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia
Blogger
Facilitator

Tom Julius-Thanks for your comment! I particularly loved your statement: "Too much conformism and the school is a desert-like status quo environment." I'm so glad that this piece resonated with you. Cheers to encouraging more authenticity!

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia
Blogger
Facilitator

Tom Campbell- I couldn't agree more! So appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your insights. Really loved your statement "the art of listening and collaboration needs to be understood and learned; championed by leadership". Cheers!

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia
Blogger
Facilitator

Thanks so much for your reflection and comment, Laura! I've been a fan of Brene for a while. I wish her research would have been around when i was a teacher. I would not have felt so alone in my work. Cheers to better support to all who strive for authenticity!

Tom Julius's picture

Lisa,
You have pulled back the curtain on one of the dynamic tensions for new teachers - how to be one's authentic self and part of a team, both at the same time. Schools as organizations depend on a balance of this dynamic tension for long-term sustainability. Too much conformism and the school is a desert-like status quo environment. Too many mavericks and the school is all bluster with no place to feel grounded and secure. The goal is to create a school where the organizational flow allows for both. That takes vision and gumption on the part of all.

(1)

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