I want to know how to better serve my students. So, I ask them.
Additionally, I’m on a career-development journey under a slew of mentors, official and otherwise, and want to know how to emulate their strengths. So I ask them, too.
Advice is a funny thing, a concept that comes with all manner of social avoidance, suspicion, and downright distain from many camps. It can be a distractor, embellishment, or weak generalization befitting the host of education texts proclaiming innovative teacher wisdom yet delivering a lukewarm bath of platitudes that fail to drive true change. Many take advice and hang it on the wall (literally or figuratively), walking past it with nary a glance most days. Others smile in acceptance, but then tuck it in a proverbial locker away from daylight.
Then again, in the right environment, advice can be insight that is part purpose, part inferential reference point. When we ask for counsel, we are walking the talk of caring what others think enough to truly listen and enact response.
I recently asked a first grader for guidance in navigating the rules of a trampoline complex and without skipping a beat she quipped, “if you’re asking me, you must really be lost.” Maybe asking for advice is about timing, topic, and intentions. When we, as educators, sincerely solicit input from our stakeholders, we send a message of value, reception, and honor. After squinting to ascertain my earnestness, my bounce-house friend walked me over to a poster about the jumping rules, told me I’d have to change my socks, and shared the best spot to defend oneself in dodge ball.
What follows came from my springtime, ersatz 360-degree inquiry, and just might contain some universal truths.
Student: I wish you could just see everything that happens to me when I’m not here, like my whole story.
Mentor: Consider the variety of student homelives and ask yourself, often, if you are reaching out to all.
I work in a high poverty school where for the majority of families’ incomes do not meet need. Creating an inclusive classroom isn’t a checkbox to mark and move on, it is a constant lens through which educators must evaluate the service they provide to their clients. While public schools are making great strides in improving education for all students, such as in college and career readiness, there remains a hill to climb. We must ask ourselves, daily, if we are receiving and honoring the full picture for our stakeholders.
Student: Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know – can you help me with that?
Mentor: Pathways are the honey. More pathways, more bees.
What I love about the standards underpinning my curriculum is the variety of accessibility points available to instruction. Further, it’s not just the choice of task entry; there is an imperative to provide these enhanced avenues through experiential learning. In the CCSS, students are expected to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize several texts in understanding ideas, represent ideas in visual and textual forms, and communicate authentic work for an authentic audience. When we deeply nestle lessons in these standards, we give students customizable, multi-faceted, and realistic learning experience. That said, transparency is the buttress for connecting with support at home and among our colleagues. Share the why along with the what.
Student: I think I’m best when you tell me things will get better, that’s when I believe you most.
Mentor: Be positive, even when you can’t. Too many others will look to your mood to set their mood.
Social and emotional learning could seem like a trend to the wary eye, yet it is the buttress of students’ ability to take care of their academic selves. The phrase “Maslow before Bloom” is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that planning the most perfect lesson can only go so far to assuage a student experiencing debilitating anxiety. Whether you build SEL into your classroom culture through curriculum such as Mind Up or simply take a minute to breathe with a student, you are changing the energy in the room for the better. Further, the energy you create becomes part of the culture, influencing other adults as well as students.
Student: You’re the teacher, shouldn’t you know what to do? Just do that.
Mentor: At some point, you’re going to have to trust yourself.
We are educators; we put blood, sweat, tears, and all the heart we have (and then some) into one of the most challenging careers. Sometimes, you just need to believe in your worth and soldier on, knowing that you are making a difference.
Should you embark on a similar quest, I recommend finding the most honest and diverse commentators available, asking them what they’d like to see, and bringing an open mind. While some might caution against asking for advice, I challenge that perception. Counsel from others is a viable measurement from which one can gather quality feedback aplenty. It might also keep you from getting pelted in dodge ball.
What is some of the best advice you’ve received in your career?