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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The end of the school year can bring up a lot of feelings for a lot of people working in schools. As we clean out our classrooms, we may come across half-finished projects, stacks of papers we never got around to grading, and files of material that we'd intended on using for a unit on something or another.

Of course, we also see the evidence of our student's success and hard work, but at least for me, it was those other piles that made me feel conflicted. I'd focus on what hadn't happened and what didn't go well. I felt disappointed in myself and reluctant about beginning the following year.

That's not what I do at the end of the year any more. Now I direct my energy and attention on what worked, what went well, and what I feel was successful. I've discovered that this strategy is critical to build my emotional resilience. One of the only things in life that I have control over is how I tell my story -- how I interpret my experiences and make sense of them. If I create a story that is one of learning, growth, and empowerment, I feel better.

So how are you telling the story of this school year?

Life is what you make of it. We design our lives, in part, by the stories we tell. Especially when we experience change, and perhaps change that we didn't initiate and that initially doesn't feel good, we still get to tell a story about it. We can tell a "victim story" such as: Our district always does this to us, they end programs that are going well and then dump new ones on us that aren't what our students need. Or can we tell another story: Change is an inevitable part of working in a school system. Which one of these interpretations feels better to you? In which story might you have more agency?

We create our realities by the stories we tell. We can tell stories about the past and we can design stories to move into.

I think and write and talk a lot these days about transformation -- of individuals and systems. I believe that in order to participate in school transformation, I must attend to my personal transformation. A turning point in my life was when I began to conscious work on transforming my own stories which weren't serving me -- they weren't energizing me to get up in the morning and go to school. As I began reinterpreting my reality, my daily life changed, the conditions of my work improved, and I felt happier. I went from: This district is hopeless; it's so messed up, and there's no way I can do meaningful work in it, to: I can find a place in this district where my work is valued, appreciated, welcomed, and where I can effectively work towards transformation.

Changing my story took time and practice. And it changed my reality.

Here's how I'm narrating this last year in the Oakland Unified School District, where I've worked for 18 years: I just had the best year I've ever had in OUSD! I learned so much and grew tremendously as an educator, coach, and leader. I worked with amazing colleagues -- I'm so grateful for them. I was supported and inspired and my work was well received. It was a hard year (I worked a lot!) but it was worth it; I can see so much evidence of the positive impact I had on kids.

How are you telling the story of your year?

I also believe in designing my future. I often have ideas (visions, really) about what I want to do next and where I want to go and what kind of work I want to do. I unlock all constructions around these visions and let my mind wander anywhere and everywhere -- the expansiveness to dream is freeing. When the ideas are clear, I move on them. I make them happen.

What kind of life are you creating? Where are you going to do next?

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Kimberlee's picture
Kimberlee
Mulit-grade self-contained middle school classroom teacher from bush Alaska

I read this post just in time. The last day of school was Friday and already the self-recrimination has begun. You are exactly correct. Regardless of the events and circumstances that we find ourselves dealing with, we choose the narration in our heads. Thanks for helping me get my summer off to a healthier start!

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

Everything is bright and pleasant and I see no cause to complain, therefore won't.

--John Ransom's Andersonville Diary, 1881

It might have been the last day of school yesterday for the chill-ren, but it ain't for us. Today and tomorrow are what's called teacher work days and all I can do is sit slumped and sad and exhausted as I look over The Cozy Room of Happiness and think of what all went on in here since August. I honestly cannot believe how fast the school year went by.

And I know you're waiting for a revelation from me ... a stunning summation about all that went on. I could tell you who's got to go to summer school, but summer school isn't a punishment. It's redemptive. It's a fair and reasonable and quick second chance. Anyhow, there are quite a few who'll be redeemed starting in a couple of weeks.

But I'll give you a revelation. I've got some energy left. A revelation at the end of the school year from a rookie teacher of kids with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. My revelation ... my belief is this: I think teachers are the most important people in the world. When someone asks me what I do, I cannot tell you how proud I am to say, I'm a schoolteacher.
No one is ever not impressed. Not with me. No. But with the deeper feelings and powerful memories the word schoolteacher evokes.

And on the very last day of being at school before the teachers get to take two and a half months off and finally get our dry cleaning caught up, I'll give you my most deepest summation ... my belief about school and children and teachers and teaching and what it all really means.

What it means is real simple and easy to understand: I deeply believe children are the most-most important people in the world. They are, and always will be, and always have been. I knew that the first day of school.

I remember exactly when I learned it. Yeehaw. It was 8 'o clock in the morning way back on August 12, when we were all walking into the schoolhouse, hoping we'd learn something new.

www.actionjacksonart.com

Jamie Armin's picture
Jamie Armin
Health Science & Life Skills Middle School teacher from MA

Love this article! I am enthusiastically looking forward to my 30th year of teaching beginning in August! No victim stories...think positive and roll with the educational changes! Implementing authentic PBL this year & reflecting on the power of student voice & choice has made for a truly fulfilling year! I look forward to what next year will bring :-)

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