The Power of Community

As the Ismaili Muslim community in the United States prepares for a special event, the national community has mobilized rapidly and strongly. In the past 48 hours alone, various teams handling different aspects of the event have pulled together, started meetings and webinars and sessions for members of the community. They have put together schedules and timings and roles and responsibilities. It is absolutely amazing to see the huge amounts of effort that everyone is putting in to make this event a complete success.

Before things get crazier than they already are, I have been taking time to reflect on the upcoming occasion. Seeing the way in which my community comes together to work with each other and the excitement with which members of the community give up sleep, time and energy to help one another is inspiring, to say the least. It also makes me think about the power that a community like this can have on its youth. A 7 year old boy approached me after a session I conducted last night to talk about how he was going to volunteer for this upcoming event and was excited to be a part of it. I can only imagine how many other youth are caught up in the excitement and the opportunities they have to participate.

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Intellectual Humility

As educators, we walk into a room bearing knowledge. Some of may have more knowledge than others, some of us may have different types of knowledge, and some of us may just be starting on our journey of gaining knowledge. The most important thing to keep in mind, I believe, is that we never know everything. Whether we are in a classroom of youth, in front of a group of community members, or in a group of educators, there is ALWAYS something to learn and some new way of understanding.

Sometimes, especially when we’re surrounded by other educators, it is easy to get defensive or feel that we need to prove ourselves or show that we know everything. It is in these moments that we lose sight of what we can be learning from others. However difficult it is, it’s crucial in moments of defensiveness or embarrassment, to take a mental step back and just listen. Listen to others’ perspectives & knowledge and reflect before responding.

There will be moments when we will be required to correct someone in their knowledge or to share our different knowledge with others. In these situations, I believe there are certain ways of sharing that alienate audiences and that can make us seem harsh, judgmental and conceited. Just because we have knowledge that others may not, does not make us any better than anyone else; it makes us blessed and should inspire gratitude. This change of perspective can help our sharing of knowledge come from a kinder, more humble place.

I believe that educators must be learners throughout their lives. As learners, we must walk into every situation with an open mind. We must be ready to take in whatever we can and be ready to share our thoughts with kindness and humility. To me, that is intellectual humility.

Lesson Planning: The Collaboration Aspect

Lesson planning is arguably one of the key skills that any educator needs to know. It helps us break down the curriculum, clearly articulate what we want our students to know and figure out how we’re going to get them there. It guides what we do in our classrooms every day. However, the way in which lesson planning is done varies greatly.

Some of us are co-teachers who plan and implement lessons with other educators. Some of us teach completely individually and plan everything on our own (while maybe getting feedback on our planning from a coach or mentor). Some of us hate lesson plans and don’t write them regularly, but naturally know where we want to guide our students. Some of us are still trying to figure out what works best for us when it comes to planning.

I have spent a majority of my 5.5 years planning alone. At first, it was simply because I wanted to ensure my plans were done on time (or ahead of time) and finding time to plan by myself was easier than working with others’ schedules. Sometimes, I’d be a couple weeks ahead in my planning and so was working with different pieces of curriculum than other teachers. Since I’ve become a coach, my meeting schedule has rarely allowed me to have time to plan with others, even if I want to.

It gets lonely planning by yourself. I work very hard to be the best educator I can be for my students, but my ideas are limited, and creativity tends to come when I can bounce back and forth in conversation with others. Throughout this school year so far, I have kept working on my own…until I got stuck on a lesson a few weeks ago.

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New Teachers

In the past 6 years of teaching, I have supported teachers in completing their research and theses, mentoring them through their first years of teaching and supporting through practicum classes. I love working with teachers, generally, but there’s something about new teachers that just brings me so much hope and excitement. Along with that, there’s a lot that older teachers can learn from working with new teachers.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and reflected on in my work with new teachers:

  • Teaching is a truly exciting profession with lots of lightbulb moments and lots of challenges
  • Our students are so amazing if we give them the opportunity to be…and we should give them every opportunity we can
  • Teaching is a lot of work and, until you get the hang of the responsibilities, it is super overwhelming
  • I should probably try to put in more of an effort to look nice for classes (our new teachers come in from studying in London, so clearly they’re more fashionable than the rest of us)
  • There are so many tiny things that go into making a class run smoothly – it’s much easier to break these down when we’re beginner teachers
  • It takes time to figure out our own teacher personalities and it’s important to keep trying to find that, even while we learn and take ideas from other educators
  • There is always something we can learn from every other teacher we come across and our minds and attitudes should always be open to that

Any time you’re feeling iffy about your career choice as an educator, I’d suggest talking to a new teacher about their experiences and their reasons for being where they are. It will open your eyes, teach you something and help you remember why teaching is the best profession there is.

Wellness & Well-being

I’ve heard of the practice of choosing a word as a New Year’s resolution or intention for a few years now, but I’ve never tried it. Up until this year, I’ve been a resolution person…however, with all the negative consequences of resolutions and the amount that people talk about how no one is able to keep them, I decided to give this up. I’ve set goals instead and have been trying hard to stick to them over the past two weeks.

I’ve also chosen two words for my 2018, words that will hopefully help me make intentional choices and continue pursuing my goals. My words this year are:

Wellness and Well-being

I’ve been thinking for a long time that my health (mental, physical, emotional) needs to be my focus. It’s always in the back of my head, but other things tend to get in the way: lesson plans need to be written or given feedback on, housework needs to be done, or sometimes I just need to feel like I have a life and can enjoy myself. In all of this, my health has never really been a priority. You know what I mean…it has never been the one thing that’s always in the forefront when I make decisions and I never consider it when I am stuck in a rut.

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New Year’s Eve 2017

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul…”

-G.K. Chesterton

The last day of the year always hits hard for me. It’s a whirlwind of emotion – excitement that the year is over, nostalgia for the good moments that I’ve experienced, anxiety about the future, a bit of loneliness, gratitude for the wonderful life I have…and the list goes on. I don’t know when this particular holiday became such an important thing for me, but it has been my favorite for a long while.

The concept of being able to start fresh, with a clean slate, appeals to me. Having set many goals for myself and having failed at achieving many of them, I like the idea of having a fixed moment when I can reset and feel like I’m being given a chance to start over. I know that many people would disagree and say that I don’t need to wait until NYE to make this happen, that I can, in fact, start over with every new sunrise. I agree, but NYE offers a specific calendar moment that stands out and happens to be a day  when the world slows down just a bit to pause and celebrate and reflect – and that’s what I love about it. I’m surrounded (well, virtually at least) by people who are taking some time to think through the year, to “close out the books” (a phrase I heard recently on The Good Life Project podcast), and to set intentions for the upcoming year. There’s a much bigger movement taking place around the world at this time and I love being a part of it.

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Middle of the (School) Year Reflections

flowers-desk-office-vintage

We are officially halfway through the school year! Can you believe it? Some of us are already enjoying our winter breaks and others are pushing their way through another few days of craziness. Either way, we’ve completed half of the 2017-2018 school year…and now we sit to think about how it’s going so far.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this time of year can often bring our biggest fears and doubts to the forefront of our minds. We can look at assessments or the behavior of our students in the last few weeks and wonder what we’ve been doing wrong this whole time. On the other hand, this time of year is a great time (once you’ve had a few days to just sleep it off) to think about how things are going – what’s going well and what needs to be improved for our students to reach success (however that might look) by the end of the year.

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The Euphoria of Professional Development

Have you ever had that feeling of absolute excitement when you walk out from a professional development session? The feeling of optimism and possibility and so many new things to try for your students. Our team has had two professional development sessions over the past week and I’ve walked out of both feeling like I have lots left to learn and so many new things I’d like to do better for my students. Here are some of my reflections…

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What Do Your Students Think?

If you think you have an accurate assessment of how your school is doing, but you haven’t asked your students… you don’t have an accurate assessment.

-Amy Fast, @fastcranny

When we discuss the bigger picture of teaching and why we do what we do, we generally talk about how the central element is the students. We plan for our students, we assess our students’ learning and our own professional development is often for the sake of enhancing our students’ experiences. However, when it comes to thinking about what to improve or how our schools and teachers can get stronger, we don’t collect students’ thoughts as often as we should. If our kids are the reason we’re here, then why not ask them what we can do better?

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Am I a Bad Teacher?

Teaching is a difficult job. In every class, I face a wide range of learning levels, personalities, and skills to engage. Every week is different based on how life might be going at that time…for the students and for myself. It’s perfectly normal, then, that there are times when I feel I’m just not doing enough, saying enough, planning enough, etc.

That feeling has hit me quite recently. I look through other teachers’ lesson plans and wonder why I have trouble being as creative, or I show impatience with a misbehaving student and wonder why I can’t shower my students with love and laughter more. Of course, we all have bad days and days when there’s so much that needs to be done that we don’t have time to address things in the way we would like, but I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself for not having more patience or more creativity or more whatever else I think an ideal teacher would have.

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