I’ve always had issues with balance. I’m the kind of person who basically guns it until I’m out of gas, then I crash and burn for a while until I can gather enough momentum for another full-out blast. The problem is that I always want to do too much, and too fast. I get so excited about a new idea or passion that it tunnels my focus and the rest fades into the distance.
Balance is a concept I’ve been working on in both my personal and professional life for some time now, but I’m nowhere near mastering it. When I read about the #oneword2017 hashtag on my twitter feed via my colleague @ (check out her blog about #oneword2017 Patience), I knew what my ‘word’ would be, and that I wanted to write about my plans to focus my energy on the concept of ‘balance’ for the upcoming year.
In 2014 I attended a PD session with Penny Kittle, and fell in love with her concept of teaching kids to love reading. I read Book Love from cover to cover and immediately began applying its teachings in my classroom. I also challenged colleagues in my school to read the book, try the concept in their classrooms, and build classroom libraries of their own. It worked: not only have we created a culture of reading at Lively D.S.S., but our students now cart their books from class to class for personal reading time throughout their day, chatting with teachers about what they are reading and learning. It’s been an amazing transformation, and one that I never get tired of talking about or working on.
But as I’ve been focused on talking, teaching and conferencing about reading, the writing in my classroom has taken a beating. My students do write regularly, but not as much as they read. Moreover, I’ve spent so much time reading and trying various strategies about teaching students to be active, conscious and thoughtful readers that my practice of teaching writing has suffered.
I need to focus some attention on writing pedagogy this year, and carve out some daily writing practice time for my students. I’ve already thought about starting learning journals for all my classes, as well as the concept of a ‘writer’s boot camp’ that I read about on Twitter (love Twitter). I also love the idea of ‘writing with’ my students as discussed by Penny Kittle in her other book, Write Beside Them.
Balance: old/new pedagogy
I firmly believe that teaching is an evolutionary practice (as per my blog site title). With that being said, evolution is supposed to be a slow process. I took the human body millions of years to transform to its current state from our neanderthal ancestors. I need to keep that in mind as I read about new teaching pedagogies I’d like to try in my classroom. I have a habit of throwing old pedagogy to the wind once I get excited about a new strategy I’ve read or learned about via colleagues, even if my current strategy is working well for me and my students. I shouldn’t be changing things that are working, I need to focus on areas of my pedagogy that aren’t. Moreover, I’d like to focus on only one new pedagogical practice at a time: taking a good while to read about it and chat with colleagues about its use, then try it myself and gather feedback about it from my students.
Balance: high/low tech
We are in the midst of a massive technological revolution in education. Classrooms are physically changing, and using technology is creeping it’s way into daily classroom life. I’ve definitely jumped on the tech bandwagon and love my 21st century classroom, but there are many students who just aren’t there. Those who have weak media literacy skills are often the same students who struggle academically. Adding tech is another layer of learning that at times is a deterrent to understanding curriculum.
Moreover, adding tech isn’t always the answer: at times it can cause more hassle than anything. I’m really going to strive to question my use of technology in my daily practice: why am I using it? I would like to focus on a few key technological applications and have students master them before moving on to others. I would also like to consciously offer students low-tech options if they so desire. After all, unless I’m teaching about or evaluating media skills, students shouldn’t have to use media tools to support their learning in oral communication, reading or writing. An ideal learning environment should have a good balance of hi and low tech options, activities and learning outcomes for students.
Every woman who is a teacher and mother/wife is laughing hysterically right now, as we all know this is basically a futile concept, but I’m going to give it an honest try again this calendar year. And yes, guys, I said women. I am being sexist, but only based on the honest observations of my brief 37 years on this earth. No man I have ever known is in charge of work AND laundry, cleaning, cooking, family scheduling, kids (care, cleaning, purchasing, social events, playdates, school notes/events, homework, etc.), holidays and all they entail (don’t even get my started about the inequities of Christmas tasks), etc. unless they are a single dad or in a relationship with another man. I’ll give you guys an exception.
Sorry for the rant, back to the focus: home/work balance. I’ve made a couple of strides in the quest for balance over the past few school years due mostly to personal necessity. I suffer from anxiety when I’m under chronic stress, and since I’ve returned to work full-time with young children at home, I realized pretty quickly that if I was going to go full steam and work and home, I’d end up in really big trouble, both physically and mentally.
I have made some changes already:
- I always take my lunch break (yes, that means I ‘ignore’ lunchtime meetings)
- I stay an extra 30-45 minutes after school, but don’t bring work home unless it’s absolutely necessary (i.e. report cards, exam marking)
- I try not answer work related emails after work hours or on the weekends
- I use the app Calm to meditate regularly, even if it’s only for 5 minutes
- I exercise at least 5 days a week regardless of how busy I am
- I practice yoga at least once a week
- I stopped coaching and running student council
This year, I’d like to add the following goals to my quest for a home/work balance:
- At work, I’d like to focus on my classes and expanding my pedagogy, and let go of other ‘ work tasks’ that take up too much of my time: special projects, grant applications and follow through, committees, program leader job.
- I am also contemplating letting go of coaching volleyball completely; this year I moved to a teacher rep./fill in position, but even that is too much after school time devotion based on the needs of my young family. This makes me sad, but it just isn’t working right now.
- At home, I need to take help when it’s offered, and ask for help when I need it. My parents live next door, and my sister-in-law and her family live down the road. I get offers for help regularly and sometimes take them, but other times I don’t because I feel the need to ‘do things myself’.
- I’d like to create a specific list of home tasks that need to be done weekly, and split them with my husband on some kind of organizational chart. My husband is great about things that are right in front of him: kids are hungry – he cooks dinner, no clean clothes – he throws a load of laundry in, no food – he does groceries. But like all men, he isn’t very aware of the ‘hidden’ tasks of daily family life that women just do: preparing for seasons/holidays (i.e. school, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc.), full house cleaning (dusting, bathrooms, changing sheets, etc.), scheduling (doctor’s apt., kids activities, family functions, etc.), weekly/monthly finances, cleaning out areas of the house regularly, planning vacations, etc. He is always there to help, but I often take charge then complain about it later. We need a better plan, and I need to let go of control on the home front.
Balance is really the state of being at peace: it’s the sweet spot we are all looking for in many areas of our lives. I’m hoping writing this blog will hold me accountable to my goals regarding balance in 2017. Another skill I’d like to acquire throughout 2017 is recognizing when things are out of balance and rectifying them before they really get out of hand, both at work and home.
What’s your #oneword2017? Share and tweet! Maybe your entire staff can participate – this would be a great January staff meeting task:)