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New Courage

I’m up early today. Well before six. My mind is buzzing with lunches and pancakes and backpacks. Our own two older children begin school today. Our youngest begins pre-K on Monday. The house is dark. Our new rescue dog is sniffing about the garden, wondering where all the nighttime creatures have gone. I’m sipping coffee. I know this will catch up with me later, but for now, this moment is mine and this makes it perfect.


I prep the pancake mix so that it can have its 30 minutes to rise. I wash garden tomatoes to put in my husband’s salad. Ideas are percolating in the rich ways that only solitude allows. Yesterday was our first team meeting, and we took time to explore how we might define success this year. The words of my colleagues become borrowed ideas intertwined with my own. I think about the things I wish for myself, my colleagues, and the students we serve.


I’m left fairly fragile from the last two years. And strangely, in this fragility, I’ve mustered a new kind of courage. This courage allows me to trust myself and others more. Though the fragility part makes me uneasy, this courage thing is fortifying.


In my musings and with the inspiration of my peers, I thought of a few questions to share. These might lead to your own early morning revelations or late night reflections.


Perhaps in this way, you’ll make some discoveries of your own or unlock new strength.


How are decisions being made?

I’m just about out of decision-making gumption. Instead of relying on myself alone, I’m thinking a lot about how I don’t have to insist on making all the decisions or having all the answers. My mantra for the year is going to be, “Let’s figure it out together.” What could happen if I look outward? Might students decide this? What is the collective wisdom of the grade level team? What might caregivers contribute?


Where is there room for risk?

If I’ve learned anything from these past months, it’s that unexpected circumstances force us to try things in new ways. Of course, risk feels different for each individual and can vary depending on the situation. Right now some of us might even be feeling risk resistant. Yet, risk taking in our methods or materials might be the very thing that enlivens and awakens our spirits and those of our students. Why not try a graphic text for the next unit? How might partnering with the science department add to our study? What community members (near and far) are essential to expanding our learning in the coming weeks?


How does this add joy?

Life has been really hard for lots of people. Life continues to be just that for many. Our classrooms are big enough to hold our struggle and the joy that learning can bring. We’re at an interesting point in our pandemic journey in that many schools are returning to in person instruction. Our remote schedules, which often called on us to make sacrifices, are being put aside. As we look at “instructional minutes returned,” the question becomes: how will we use those minutes? To some degree, we get to decide what gets added back in and what we leave out. Let us discern with joy in mind. Will this bring us joy? Will this challenge and press our limits in purposeful ways? Will curiosity and innovation be centered in this student space? How can this work celebrate or lift each other up?


What if…?

This is a really powerful lead that my colleague and friend Pam Koutrakos champions. In looking at the choices we’re making as school leaders, classroom teachers, and coaches, we would be well served to entertain questions that start with these words. What if students pick their learning goals? What if teachers give more feedback and fewer grades? What if students choose their own books to read? What if writers pick the genre? What if students create the tools used in grading?


What else…?

This final question frame is a simple reminder that if we sit with something just a little longer or consider that our first knee-jerk idea might not be our best, we open ourselves and our work to greater imagination. What other idea or possibility haven’t I considered? What is one other way we could try/do this? Whose thinking might I seek out to help me see more? What else have other trusted educators tried? What else do students need right now?


Knowing my own limits while trusting in the creative and collective process of our teaching craft has surprisingly inspired courage. I know there will be hard days and slow days and days when I cry “do over!” I’m in good company because colleagues and students alike will be living this reality too, so thank goodness we can shape the landscape and lay the path together.