Sunday, November 16, 2014

Post-Game Wrap Up: Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge

Every major writing project in my classes includes a reflect-on-your-writing component where I ask writers to consider their writing process, explain their approach, and discuss what they've gained. These meta-commentaries are like a "chalk-talk" after a football game or notes after a play's dress-rehearsal. 

It's that reflection after publishing when writers ask themselves, "What were the intentions behind the choices, implicit and explicit, I made?" "What were the consequences, positive and negative, that followed from those decisions?" "What strategies can I revise and build upon next time around?" "Which strategies should I jettison?" 

I used to dread reading notes after high-school drama rehearsals, afraid the voice captain would announce I wasn't cutting it or director would cut me from the cast. 

But no. The best post-rehearsal sessions had to do with reflective revision, about building from our strengths and minimizing weaknesses. I've striven to make the the "post-rehearsal" self-evaluations in my class keep with that spirit, celebrating effort well spent and resolving problems. 

I finished TeachThought's Reflective Teaching 30 Day Blog Challenge a few weeks ago, I figure I need to reflect on my own blogging process, on what I took -away and what I've discovered or rediscovered about myself as teacher. After all, the theme of my blog is to "feel the burn" I expect student writers to experience in my classroom, Here goes. 

I. Got. So. Much. Too much to fit into a single post. 

I agree with my friend and colleague, the blogger behind Eat the Yolk, who talks about the boost, purpose, and inspiration she gains from blogging about teaching. I also concur with what Refranz Davis has to say about blogging in her post on Edutopia, "Reflecting for Change, From Journaling to Blogging."

The most surprising lesson I gleaned from the experience is that I can't look to students to validate me.  I can't expect their reactions to me and my assignments to fill me up. I can't depend on their affection or gratitude. Students don't have to like me. Indeed, if I do my job correctly, students may not. And for sure, students can't appreciate how hard I work or how much energy it takes to prepare lessons and assess their learning.  I can't put too much stock in their opinions about me, at least as far as my own worth is concerned. That's not their charge. 

As the saying goes, "What other people think of me is none of my business." 

I thought I understood that concept. And I did, intellectually.  But it wasn't until I started blogging regularly that I understood on an experiential basis how much I had invested in my students' opinion of me. As I began blogging and reading my peers' posts, I found myself looking to teachers for validation. My colleagues are the only ones who fully appreciate the ups and downs of teaching. They are the only ones who "get it." Placing the burden of "getting it" on my students is close to a boundary violation, expecting more out our relationship than is ethically responsible. 

Reading my colleagues posts, peers from across the nation and around the world, I found richer, more meaningful affirmation than I ever felt from students. I felt a quality of connected to my profession that I hadn't felt before or had only experienced as momentary flashes at staff development programs. At the risk of sounding too much like Sally Field, I began to feel heard, understood. In retrospect, I see how my stress level gradually reduced; I no longer feel on the verge of burning out. 

Nurturing community with teachers, even virtually, mitigates my tendency to depend on my relationships with students for my self-worth.. And without that unspoken expectation of appreciation haunting my interactions with students, classes became relaxed, easier, less taxing.  I didn't need students to like me (at least not as much as I did before). 

Had anyone suggested that I'd make that discovery by blogging, I would have felt insulted, defensive even. I know about boundaries. I know about appropriate relationships. I have a degree in counseling, dammit!

But I've been pleasantly surprised to make this discovery, which is probably less about a single event than it is an unfolding, a gradual learning process. Participating in the San Diego Area Writing Project and getting a full-time position are the two other influential moments that likely spurred this revelation. 

Without the regular, formal  written reflection of blogging, I doubt I'd recognize at an experiential level how much I need a community of peers. I'm not some lone wolf out there on my own. I'm a member of a dedicated, loving, community of professionals with whom I can celebrate my successes and lean on when times get rough. 

Because of TeachThought's  September Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge and the other professional blessings I recently  experienced, I commit to nurturing connections with my professional peers - virtually and in real-time. And I commit to building the kind of teacher-student relationships that foster the healthy learning experiences that students deserve.