Friday, July 8, 2011

The Gift of Mentoring..a Year Later

It's been a year since my fabulous intern, Nicole, aka "Miss Harrington," and I went our separate ways. At the end of last school year, as she got her credential and wondered how she would ever find a job in this terrible economic climate, I moved on, to a new grade at a new school, hopeful for her and thankful for the wonderful year we spent as intern and mentor.

In August, I was thrilled to get the call that she got hired at my former school, just days before school began, was going to teach in kindergarten in "our" former room, with lots of the goodies I gifted to her as I left for my big move to 4th grade. Many hours of my commute this year were spent listening to her and brainstorming ideas with her about her very young class. Each conversation left me inspired and grateful: not just to know her, but to have learned so much from our time together in the classroom and to continue to learn as we hashed through problems aloud, laughing our way to possible solutions.

Today, as I wandered through my old weebly blog of my kindergarten class (2009-2010) I serendipitously stumbled upon her beautiful portfolio video that she made at the end of our year together.  I  messaged her immediately, asking if I could share it here. As I've gotten more involved in working with new teachers, with my friend Lisa Dabbs and her awesome work with Edutopia and the New Teacher Boot Camp and chat, I know that stories can inspire, especially when times are tough.

So, sit back, enjoy the video, and think about how you might be able to support and learn with another wonderful young teacher like Miss Harrington. Here's to you, Nicole!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What Happens When You Close the Windows?

When I close all those browser windows, those tabs of mass distraction on my computer, I am left with me. Just me. Just the random, rambling thoughts and the deep down recurring whispers reminding me that I am supposed to do something meaningful.

Do what?  It’s summer time, and I’m supposed to be recovering, rejuvenating, learning, planning for back to school, right? Something inside me shouts, "yes," and then, in a split second, "not so fast!"  For years I have been brewing thoughts about the important intersection between positive psychology and education. I've written posts about these ideas here and here. Thanks to my husband, who shares my love for psychology, we have collected, read and discussed books from inspiring writers and researchers like Tal Ben-Shahar, Barbara Fredrickson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ed Diener, Ellen Langer , and countless others. Many Saturday mornings have been spent evaluating the ideas of a “meaningful life” “optimal brain functioning and learning” and what it all means to us.

And all of this brings me to a question. Maybe not one you think about..or do you?


Why can’t we learn from psychology mavericks like Martin Seligman, who went from studying what’s wrong with people to what’s right with them? How can we apply this process of “strength and passion finding” to our floundering field of education?  I say,“our field” because I am a teacher. I walk into a classroom each day with a grand hope: to instill a love for learning, a passion for self-discovery among my students. In my heart though, perhaps I am still a psychologist. I suppose I can be both, right?

I was never licensed as a therapist, though I finished my M.A. in Clinical Psych and earned my hours doing therapy and social work, for nearly 7 years. I worked in the trenches, got burned out in foster care, as I donned my superhero cape each day, trying to save foster care placements, pleading with families to give the kids another chance. I was almost ready to take the California MFT licensing exam when I decided that I could impact more kids in a deeper way by being with them in the classroom each day. I thought I was throwing in my superhero cape..but wow, I was wrong.

And now, I often feel in the same role as an educator: convincing parents not to give up on their own kids, or reminding other teachers that we need to change our lens:  it’s often not what’s wrong with a student but what’s “right with them” that’s in need of discovery. Why is it so hard for others to grasp that the way to get a student interested and excited about learning is through tapping into their strengths and passions?

In this drawn out ramble, there’s a message for me, and perhaps an invitation for you.  I need to get some of these ideas down, revisit the numerous notebooks and sketchpads where I have exposed my inner thoughts, and begin to weave together the message and stories I want to share.  I need to let go of the perfectionist fears that stifle this creative expression each time the ideas bubble to the surface. What’s the worst thing that can happen if I share my ideas, stories, plans? Do I have to please anyone? Intellectually, I know the answer to that question. 

What is that key message I want to share? That what we believe and what we do every day with kids matters, whether our role is teacher, administrator, parent, counselor, or advocate. Yes it matters that we  teach them what the curriculum requires, but more importantly, we teach them how to learn about themselves. Creating a belief, " I can do anything I set my mind to,” and facilitating the skills of how to reach out and ask for help are critical.  That’s what I want for all kids: self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the social skills that will allow them to follow a path of passion.  

Now that I’ve shared mine…what’s your inner voice saying? What is it that calls to you each day when you dare to close those windows and be quiet with your own thoughts?