Work smarter, not harder!
That’s what I’m doing here–this post actually is meeting a homework assignment for me, AND allowing me to write for the Coop Catalyst blog this week as well. The question in my class is: “Reflect on your teaching career and create a timeline of events that have had a significant impact on the educator you have become.” The question here is: “What is your journey around activism as an educator? What are its milestones, its epiphanies?” I’m simply merging the two questions.
I AM an activist. In one end-of-the-year ceremony where I was receiving the obligatory Jefferson cup as I was transferring to another school, one of my principals said, “Paula is probably the most aggravating teacher I have ever worked with, as she is always pushing and asking for something. I just have to keep reminding myself, though, that the reason she does that is for the kids. She is also one of the best child advocates I have ever known. Her work is all about the students.”
That’s it. It IS all about the kids.
I left my first job teaching after only one year because the principal called me into his office to fuss at me for having kids stomp their feet in rhythm to music. (He called it dancing, which was against HIS religion.) I realized I had to be in a school with a leader who put kids first.
Right after labor day, I was added as a 3rd teacher to an overloaded grade. The two teachers already there got to pick the 10 kids each they gave me. You can imagine my class. Once I figured that out, I vowed never to do that to someone else if I were ever in the giving seat.
That year, even with “those kids,” my principal okayed me letting students work their own way through the math book. I practiced differentiation before it was called that, and watched kids thrive when given the opportunity to lead their own learning.
In my first 5 years, I taught 3 different grades in 2 different schools. I showed resiliency and rose to each occasion to my own satisfaction.
In the mid 80’s, my county hired an Early Childhood coordinator, and we began having EC conversations after school (voluntary attendance). It was in those I realized I did things differently in my classroom than many people. It was in those I realized how much we could all learn by simply sharing and talking about what we do. (I’ve continued to experience the power of that epiphany through the PLN I have built.)
In the late 80’s, early 90’s I got my M. Ed in Early Childhood with a brilliant mentor who constantly pushed me and taught me to lead my own learning in school situations. I became involved in state organizations, began presenting regularly and began to experience life outside of my classroom and around the country through sharing with other educators beyond my county.
During this same time period, our county hooked up to the Internet. I had one of two modems in the school in my room, and connected my kids to other people outside of our classroom through email. Again, the power of people connecting was brought home to me as I watched my 5 year olds connect to others over email, teaching them and learning from them.
In 1991, I left the school I had been in for 17 years because I had an incompetent principal who was threatened by my knowledge and who made my life miserable. That transfer increased my sense of control, and again, I realized I didn’t have to put up with principals who weren’t in it for the kids.
During the 90’s, that same principal who described me as aggravating moved me between grade levels every year but one in 8 years at his school. It was for a variety of reasons, but I realized I wasn’t an “early childhood teacher,” as I had classified myself in my head. I was a teacher and could teach anything and do it well.
It was also during this time I began using technology extensively. I bought my own computer for work at home. And, I began building my presence on the web with an award-winning “Cut Loose With Dr. Seuss” webpage.
When he left that school, so did I–I realized I was a teacher who needed a principal who could deal with my pushing and my activism, so I began my school hopping. I lucked into a position where I facilitated the entry of the first laptop lab in our county. I saw how what I did in a resource role changed what happened in classrooms. (The school was ripe for this because of years of prep by a fabulous principal. I just stepped into a great situation with great teachers who were ready for what I had to offer.)
In 1999, I added to my global PLN when I was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator and began regular communication with a very special group of educators worldwide. Learning how other people around the world used technology, thought about innovation and worked on the work brought home the power of a global PLN and the incredible growth involved when people connect across countries and cultures.
During the first decade of 2000, I became a Gifted Resource Teacher and realized just how MUCH we bore kids in school. My own grandson entered school and had a hateful Kindergarten experience, so I became a much more vocal advocate for learners at both ends of the spectrum, especially for kids NOT in my classroom.
I’ve had experience teaching at an incredibly dysfunctional school and with an incredibly dysfunctional principal, so I know how crucial leadership in a building is to the success of ALL learners.
I continued to be in the forefront in the use of technology in many ways, and continued to build national and international relationships through technology and shared experiences, so I know how powerful using technology to build relationships can be.
I’ve discovered a lot of understandings about myself over the many years I’ve learned from my students. I KNOW that children are the most important resource we have for forging the future of our world, and I have committed myself to support their growth in understanding themselves at an earlier age than I understood myself.
I am an advocate for my students, and always have been. I am a lifelong learner and that has led me to be “hopping with technology” as a friend once described me. I am in my 36th year teaching and am currently taking the third in a series of four 3 credit college classes that address being an eTeacher. The advocacy, lifelong learning and technology use are qualities of me as an activist, and as a person.
The experience of writing on the Cooperative Catalyst blog, and the power of building and being a member of a PLN outside of my building, my county, my state, and even my nation has made me look not only at my own practice differently, but also my own life. I am more committed than ever to teaching adults as I do my students–with all of my heart and in ways that impact upon their hearts.
Leading and learning with the adults that surround your kids is just as important as leading and learning daily with your students. Teaching in a silo-especially when you are good at it–is like living in a well, deep and cold. Are you in that silo or are you building the bridges that connect you and your kids to the world in ways that stretch you all and connect us all globally?