The question to kick off the small group conversation was simple enough: What successes have you had in the first two weeks of school?
Six Providence, Rhode Island school teachers—previously unknown to each other—leaned into the hotel ballroom tables in an effort to shield themselves from the hubbub at the other thirty-some tables in the room. Then conversation broke out, deliberate and organized at first:
- My goal is to call the parents of every one of my 80 ELL students—in their native Spanish—so I can introduce myself to them. It’s terrifying because my Spanish isn’t so hot, but the response of the parents after the first few calls has been amazing and I’m going to power through. They’re actually teaching me, so it’s getting better as I go.
- We’re doing coding this year as part of math. It’s a free curriculum someone told me about and you really follow it step by step. I have never coded before; I’m not a coder. I have no idea what I’m doing. But some of the kids are coders and they really help all of us out. It’s been fun learning with the kids.
- I’m finally figuring out Google Classroom—especially the part where you can comment on the students’ work and they can write comments back at you and even to each other. They love it. And so do I.
Soon enough, organization and discipline crumbled away and a real exchange broke out, with questions, laughter, and side comments—punctuated by a frequent Oh my god, yes or Wait, what’s the name of that website again?
Gradually, a pattern and some common themes emerged about what it takes to achieve classroom success and personal growth. A big part of it is the ability to make yourself a little vulnerable—to be human. Calling up a family and trying to use your college Spanish, knowing that you’re going to be in a pinch when the person on the other end of the line asks a question? That takes courage. Being the adult and knowing that you’re the second or third or sixth best coder in a room of middle schoolers? That’s scary. Allowing kids to comment directly on their classmates’ written work? That’s a whole world of potential trouble.
After a few moments, I sensed a lull and asked, And so what’s happened in your classrooms? Has everything gone smoothly?
And they giggled and guffawed, Sssssssssssss…no! and began calling out each of the problems they had run into with equipment, administrators, students, and colleagues.
But it didn’t seem to matter to them. They were learning, they were teaching, and they had already formed deep relationships with their students. Some of the folks around the table had clearer ideas than others about where they were headed, but they ALL had a plan: see an instructional problem (or an opportunity), craft a way to address it, don’t stress out about what others think about it or whether it’s going to be “a hit” the first time—and go for it!
Thanks for sharing that, Table 5.
Dave Meyers is a former classroom teacher and currently works as CEO and Co-founder of TeachersConnect, a community built by teachers. He had the great fortune of attending the ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) Providence gathering on Saturday, September 16th.