This past February, I attended EduCon Philly, an Ed-camp-like “education innovation” conference hosted by Science Leadership Academy (SLA – a public school in Philadelphia) and co-organized by Meenoo Rami, the Author of Thrive: 5 Ways to Re(Invigorate) Your Teaching and English teacher at SLA.
I offered up a session around teacher education and 21st century pedagogies. It was the end of the second day, and all minds were whirring with the incredible stories that had been shared about connected technologies and inquiry-based pedagogy. Everyone was tweeting, and blogging, and hacking, and making, and mashing, and… well, you get the picture; there was a whole lot of networking going on about what we were learning. We were all excited… yet we were all starting to feel drained as well.
I asked participants what they, as teacher-educators, needed help with regarding the use of connected technologies. I was expecting, “we need more computers,” or “we need more training.” There was certainly a bit of that. But the most resounding question was: “How do we find balance amid all the networking, collaborating, making, and teaching? How do we avoid burn-out in this connected world?”
Rami’s book answers these questions. I see her book as a wellness guide for the mind, spirit, and soul of the teacher. It’s the calm and thoughtful mentor sitting beside you, rooting you on, and reminding you to take care of yourself (and your students). Rami offers specific advice, examples and frameworks that well help you nurture your inner-self and your teaching. She helps us understand that teaching does not have to lead to burn-out – rather, teaching can (and should) be invigorating and make us happier.
Rami helps us step out of ourselves and make connections to others; it’s through the building of relationships with mentors, colleagues, professional networks, and, most importantly, students and their families, that we find support and energy. Her book shows us how this can be done in a mindful way that helps teachers meet their needs and develop a sustainable network of allies. She shares specific anecdotes of teachers around the country which show us that this is not only possible, but necessary.
Three aspects of her message really stood out to me. The first was about the power of networking. I won’t go into that so much right now – that’s my academic area, and so of course that would speak to me. Suffice it to say, her ability to help us understand how to build supportive sustainable networks taught me a thing or two.
The second message was that when teachers are focused on helping students uncover their passions in a co-constructive way (vs. trying to put on a show that will excite them), both the students and the teacher feel vital in the process of teaching and learning. The work is meaningful, relevant, and truly engaging. I’ve seen the “showtime” phenomena so many times when working with new teachers – they want students to like them, so they put in so much energy trying to bring a smile to their faces through a big song and dance that they:
a) Get disappointed if this does not happen
b) Focus more on the reaction than the learning, and
c) Eventually burn out from working so hard on something that often fails.
In comparison, when the purpose of instruction is to work with learners to uncover their interests and passions, there is joy in the journey as well as in the discoveries, and as student ownership of the learning grows, so does their passion for the learning.
The third message that I found very relevant and helpful was around how to handle resistance or challenge. Rami knows all too well the realities of the classroom and the roadblocks and fears that can come with it – from negotiating with administrators to working with parents or colleagues. Yet, here she shines in offering a mindful and balanced approach to not only facing fears, but using them to your advantage in the classroom. Fears offer us an opportunity to model vulnerability and openness with our students, which can, in turn develop a stronger classroom community and foster student voice. Resistance offers us ways to be creative and think of new solutions; it is an opportunity to be intellectually curious.
Thrive offers a deeply thoughtful, articulate, and practical guide to help teachers find balance and teach in powerful ways. It may be a revelation to some that good teaching and wellness go hand in hand (since the image we are given so frequently of the “good teacher” is the one who works him or her-self to the bone), but Meenoo’s text proves it, and should provide the real standard for the “good teacher” in the 21st Century.
This book is going to be required reading for my pre-service teachers, and it’s next on my list for my teachers’ group book discussion. I’m looking forward to helping my students and colleagues cultivate their passion through reading it together.