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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?

Comments (13)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Greg Reiva's picture
Greg Reiva
High School Science Teacher

Reflection after a long hard year is essential therapy. I question the methodology I employed in the classroom. I am now beginning the process of designing changes in the curriculum that will benefit students and be more engaging. It is a personal reflection process that needs to be taken as you regroup and mentally redesign how you will deliver educational opportunities to our students.

Bruce's picture
Bruce
elementary tech teacher

CORE< CORE,, eeek. we forgot there was a kid back behind the stats
When I started this some 30 years ago, the mantra was "DON'T TEACH to the TEST !!
Now, it's
TEACH to individual items on the test OR we will fire you.

Such progression, haw... Such backward thinking !
Bruce

Valerie's picture
Valerie
Third Grade from Wyoming

I enjoyed your article and feel that it has great realistic insight that is necessary for teachers to remember. I often time find that at the end of the year I am stressed about what I should have done instead of all the progress that I did make with the students. I agree that it is easy to "justify" and put blame on situations that are not negotiable like testing and schedules. Regardless, all that does is encourage a negative attitude. I agree that it is vital in our profession to stay positive and flexible. Thank you for your insight- It has been refreshing to know that I am not the only one who has felt this at the end of the school year and now I have a better solution, or mindset, of how to look at things.

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

Nobody left to run with anymore. Nobody left to do the crazy things we used to do before--no! Nobody left to run with anymore.

--"No One To Run With," by the Allman Brothers Band

This is it. The last day of the semester before we go on Christmas break for two weeks. The day already has a weird vibe to me and my only thought is that I'm too sentimental about first days and last days and memories and history. Every day we make history. I care to see it and know it and remember it and that weighs on your moods and perceptions of things and eighth graders you know real well in particular.

Coco the assistant principal comes in and asks if I wouldn't mind having a few seventh graders sit in here with me. The girls have finished their exam already and we had them in the great room but they seem a little itchy and need someone to watch over them.

The girls in the group ask if they can sit on the floor in the back of the room and play cards.

No problem.

So they go sit down in the back of the room to play cards. Like older men. Real cards. Real bickering.

Hap comes bouncing in and hands me an envelope with no name on it.

I asked him how come he knew the envelope was for me.

Hap said none of the envelopes had names on them.

I asked him if this was my Christmas teacher gift.

Yeah! Hap bounces back out.

I open it. I'm guessing every teacher is getting a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble from Hap.

Jimmy Joe bops in with an extra credit project. Slavery in the South is the name of it. Many pages of words and cut and pasted pictures. Any and all extra credit projects were due yesterday so I'd have time to grade them and get the grade in the grade book. But God forbid I'd remind Jimmy Joe for the one millionth time. I glance through it while he's standing there watching me, very carefully, glance through it. I look up at Jimmy Joe and tell him I'm proud of him and his extra effort. Merry Christmas. I'll give it a look see here real quick and give it a grade.

Merry Christmas to you, too!

I look at my watch and the clock on the computer and the clock on the wall just to make sure. Then I go over to the back wall and to The Georgia History Board of Knowing What's Going On, and write ... It's Time For Christmas Break! You're Free to Go!

All the boys ran out of there as fast as they could. The girls were heavily into their card game. I said you're free to go ... home! Enjoy!

They laughed and finally sprang up and waved ... Bye Twad!

The faculty lunch was nice. The parent volunteer association put it on in the great room in the high school building. Nice white table cloths. Candles. Envelopes with money in them for every teacher and principal. A fire was roaring in the fireplace. The rice and gravy brought back childhood memories of school. We ate a lot of it.

I was sitting by a teacher, Prissy, from the middle school while I was slurping a big pile of it down. Prissy teaches fifth and sixth graders. She was working on a big pile of rice and gravy, too. She looked up at me and said, Doesn't rice and gravy make you feel good?

Jennifer Batron's picture

Thank you for this article! I get teased by my colleagues because even before the last day of school is out, I'm already looking at ways to make next year even more successful. When we become stagnant in our teaching, the kids become stagnant in their learning. This kind of positive reflection can only help!

Tom W.'s picture
Tom W.
High school Science

I have now completed my sixth year of teaching and am now in a full revamp of my teaching style. I believe I have gotten a bit too comfortable with my lessons the way they are. And, the student's state test scores are not as good as they should be and not at all what I want.

I have been reading the blogs and gleaning new things to try and will be working over the summer to work them in. I will keep trying new things until the students start really learning and maybe not stop then either.

This is my first time posting anything anywhere. This is exciting!

Robin Ruiz- Teacherparent's picture
Robin Ruiz- Teacherparent
Middle School Integrated Curriculum-Aspiring Leader-Lifelong Learner

I love learning. The best opportunities for Professional Development are the ones you make on your own.
EdCamp Leon. I have met so many new teachers and had fun learning. Jason Flom is my reality check!

Michelle's picture

What a great article! Reflecting on our previous year makes us who we are. As educators, we strive to make the next year even better than the year before. Most of us proclaim to have had the best year every year. Of course we have our trials, but we must focus on the things that worked well.
I have been out of school for a week. Yesterday, I stopped by the school to pick up a few books I wanted to look over. I have already been searching the web and checking out Pinterest. The wheels are turning already for next year, just as Kimberlee blogged! I am getting ready to lead an awesome group on the upcoming year and I can't wait!

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