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  • Pam Koutrakos

Shifting Our Lens: Focusing Our Attention on What’s in Place (Teachers)

Per·cep·tion pərˈsepSH(ə)n noun

the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the sensesa way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something

Many families typecast. Perhaps, growing up, you were regarded as the “smart, precocious one” or the “cute but helpless one” or the “funny, goofy one” or the “uh-oh-here-comes-trouble one.” We may have not liked people casting us in these roles, but nonetheless, these roles became part of how identified ourselves. Unfortunately, we may also get typecast at work: “the one with the messy classroom,” “the one who always asks questions in a meeting,” or even “principal’s pet.” Despite all of our accomplishments, this typecasting may make us feel as though we fall short, even when this just isn’t true.

Here’s the truth: educators are awesome! We share our hearts, souls, and knowledge with others everyday. We work before and after school and often through our lunches and preps. We miss out on times with family and friends because we are preparing to give the learners we work with our very best. We regularly read. We continue to learn. We share and collaborate. ...and yet still, we are incredibly hard on ourselves. Here’s the thing: these perceptions are false. Not only that, they can be damaging, As we work towards shifting our awareness to what students already have in place, we also need to shift our awareness and do the same for ourselves.

How can we shift our lens? Here’s a few simple ideas to help us recognize all we are already doing and move forward with confidence in our competence:

  • Transfer our teaching: In reading, we ask students to notice patterns in characters and use these patterns to grow theories. Students new to this work often start by saying something like: “____ is the kind of character/person who____. I know this because_____, _____, and _____.” Let’s try this for ourselves. Here’s the only rule- the trait we identify needs to be positive- and then we need to collect (and remember) multiple pieces of evidence that prove this is true!

  • Look around. Notice what is in place. How does your classroom environment support learning? What routines are in place? What risks are students taking? How have students begun to take ownership of their learning? For every observation, name a few ways YOU helped make this happen.

  • Be careful with reflection. There’s a difference between thinking, “Next time maybe I will try…..” and “Urgh- I should have….” Reflection is not meant to be punitive or evaluative. Reflection helps us grow. When reflecting on a lesson, conference, or scenario, start with a little celebration- What went well? What will you will do again? Then- begin to consider other ways you might expand, deepen, refine, or develop your repertoire.

  • Stop comparing yourself to a colleague next door or down the hall! Instead, use an admiring lens to name what you do well and also what this teacher does well. Then, tell this teacher what you admire (they likely need to hear it, too)!

  • Be proactive! If there’s a part of your practice where you feel less confident, tackle it head on. Never stop growing and developing your identity as a teacher. Perhaps you may...

  • Look for a colleague who does this well and ask them for some tips.

  • Invite this colleague to watch you teach and provide some targeted feedback.

  • Do a little professional reading: look through a text from an author/educator you admire.

  • Find mentors and peers who share this interest on a communal online space like Twitter. The teaching community on Twitter is tremendously inspirational and supportive.

We know we need to take care of ourselves in order to be our best and care for others. Our perceptions may need some fine-tuning. By bringing our awareness to what we actually see and hear happening in our classrooms, we may recognize all we do and better understand the impact we have.

For more insights on shifting our lens in how we view students, check out this recent blog, too.

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