My brain is in a million places at once right now. Yes, this is the same for all teachers at the start of a new school year, but as the coach of a fall sport, it's back-to-school-teacher-brain combined with the urgency-of-coaching-brain. My time and energy are focused in two related but separate directions, and my stress is multiplied. Last week was both the first week of classes and our first Cross Country meet of the season. Today, I needed one thing: to focus on the best parts of the day instead of the stressful annoyances.
Practice was short and easy tonight. We have a meet tomorrow, and I like to have something relatively simple the day before: a few easy laps of our grass course, and individual sit downs with each runner to reflect on the last meet and set goals for the next. Then some yoga before we take off for the night.
Tonight, as we were waiting for the last few runners to come in from their laps before we started our group yoga, I slipped into typical teacher mode and asked a question to the group for everyone to answer. What was the best part of your day today? I called on the first eager kid, then had them popcorn around the group until we heard from everyone.
Some kids were excited to spend time with a best friend in a certain class. Some kids were excited because school lunch was decent today. Some were excited because they snuck in a nap or some Netflix during study hall. One kid was pumped that he found a Pop-Tart in his laptop bag that he'd forgotten about.
Some didn't know what the best part of their day was, so we decided for them that the best part was Cross Country practice with the CGD XC family.
Finally, after all the kids had shared, they asked me what the best part of my day was.
At first, I drew a blank. I'd just spent 15 minutes asking them, and I couldn't do the same. What was the best part of my day?
And then the flood started.
The best part of my day was when my colleague thanked me for the letter of recommendation I wrote for his application to grad school. He complimented my writing skills and was genuinely grateful.
The best part of my day was when two former students who are now seniors came in for their first day as my student helpers.
The best part of my day was the Meme of the Day email and website that Myriam (my XC senior girl and all-around fabulous human being) sends out every single morning of the school year.
The best part of my day was that I get to spend my day talking to teenagers.
Then we did our yoga. And as we stood around in a sloppy mass, kids deciding who was going to hang out or grab food after practice, one of my quiet boys came up to me.
"Mrs. Hauptsteen, actually, the best part of my day is probably that today is my birthday," he shared in a barely a whisper.
"It's your birthday? Happy birthday!" I couldn't hide my excitement. Birthdays should always be celebrated.
And then every single kid on the team huddled around him and we sang "Happy Birthday" at the top of our lungs without any planning or discussion. They gave him hugs and well wishes. They gave him some love on his birthday.
As I sat there watching my team, my little family of misfits and rebels treating each other with simple kindness and love, that was the best part of my day.
I love reflection. I do it constantly for myself as a teacher, and I ask my students to reflect on their learning and experiences in my classroom, too. If you were to ask me what the most important aspects of teaching are, reflection would be in the top five. We are able to grow by honest reflection on our weaknesses.
But my reflection is usually based on memory. My perception of events both positive and negative. These could be hastily jotted down on the 8,000 sticky notes placed on any given surface of my classroom or lesson planning book, or in digital form in just as many places.
What I don't usually have is narrative reflection from the Dark Ages of Teaching Past.
At the start of inservice today, my principal handed all of us artifacts from years ago. Things he had collected at various times that we could choose to reflect on as we think about where we've been in our teaching careers and where we're headed.
This reflection was from November of my second year of teaching. Not quite as bad as that first year, but still nowhere near the same level of competence that I'm dealing with now.
My first reaction was mild embarrassment. Was it really so insurmountable to set high standards?
My second reaction was the irony. I was struggling to find a way to be clear with expectations. Now I'm pretty much known by all students, even the ones I've never taught, as someone whose expectations for both academics and behavior are never in doubt.
And now my reaction is relief. Those first five years...no wonder why so many teachers quit before they even have the chance to find out what kind of educator they could be. The learning curve is steep, and it happens in front of an audience each and every day.
Learning is messy, for kids and teachers. I'm so grateful my principal showed me enough grace in those early years to keep me from running away. I'm so glad he knows I've grown enough now that it's safe to look back at something so concrete and remember.
I've come a long way in eleven years. I hope when I look back after the next eleven (or six months, or whatever) that my growth will continue to be just as stark of a contrast. If I'm not a little embarrassed by past mistakes and relieved to be where I am, then I'm probably not pushing myself enough.
Today I attended the first day of training under Diane Sweeney's Student-Centered Coaching model. I'd read the first few chapters of her book prior to today's workshop, and the ideas were already resonating with many of my core values as an educator. The work we did today reaffirmed that positive feeling on so many levels. Today wasn't just PD that gave me some things to think about back in my classroom. Today was PD that made me wiggle in my seat like a puppy. Today was PD that made me want school to start right now, tomorrow, just so we can get things started. Today was a good day.
Ever since I started my involvement with the Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) plan for my district, this was the ultimate goal. Putting a system in place that would be student-learning focused while also giving teachers more agency over their professional growth was something I considered a top priority, my ultimate dream. I've spent the past two years in a state of nervous defensiveness around all topics TLC for my district. I invested so much time in planning and writing the grant with the rest of the TLC team. I knew launching the program would be one of the most important steps, and one that I had the least amount of control over. I'm so thrilled my district (and other surrounding districts in our consortium) decided on the Diane Sweeney coaching model. This speaks to me. This is what I do. This can help me do it better. This can help me do more things that I never even considered.
I plan my weeks in writing workshop according to the Common Core writing standards, with at least two related standards guiding each week's minilessons and writings. As someone with so much curricular freedom, it's always helped me to narrow my focus by aligning to standards and using them as a target goal for student learning and a way of checking up on myself. This helped me grow so much as a teacher from the early years when I was more worried about content instead of skills. Too often, writing classrooms get caught up in trying to cover content. We must cover this many genres and purposes for writing. We must cover these grammar concepts. There's so much to do that it often overwhelms people into only being able to focus their energy on content instead of moving past that into actual student learning and mastery of the content.
Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level provides the questions that will help all teachers reflect on what we're doing in our teaching practice and how it actually helps student mastery of standards and skills (instead of memorization of content). It creates avenues for constant reflection of practice in a safe, non-threatening way. What do I believe about learning? What am I doing in the classroom that reflects those beliefs? What am I doing that actively goes against my beliefs? How do I use student work to evaluate their learning needs and guide my instruction for whole group, small groups, and individuals?
The team my principal has created for this next step in teacher growth also has me excited. Today, I got to spend the day with a total rock star from my building, someone I admire greatly but hardly ever get to work with because she's on the sixth grade team. Sitting at the table with her and my principal, you could feel the electricity. We were filling Post-its and margins with notes and ideas and plans. We have another day of training tomorrow, and I know all three of us are legitimately thrilled to go back and do more of this work, continue these conversations. We can make our excitement contagious. I know it.
I know there will be reluctant people on our staff regarding the new TLC program and the role we all play in it, but if the three of us can carry this enthusiasm back with us, we can create a major shift for student learning in our building. This is PD that works. This is something that can make a difference. This is the dream becoming reality.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.