It’s January, so lots of people – or at least lots of teachers – or at least lots of teachers I know – are considering their One Little Word for the year. The idea here is that we choose one word as a focus for the year – kind of like a New Year’s Resolution.
For the past two years, my word has been listen. I’ve been having a hard time letting it go because I’m not convinced I’m very good at it yet. Every time I think I’ve got listening down, I realize that my brain is talking over other people again and I have to try again. Also, listening seems wildly important to teaching (and, of course, to life). Pretty much every step I’ve taken in teaching has come from listening. I like listen. It’s a good little word. I considered making the whole thing moot by “not choosing” a word and secretly holding on to listen. We won’t discuss the fact that pretty much no one besides me knows or cares about my word and I can’t exactly hide my perfidy from myself. Sigh.
Then, over at The Librarian’s Journey, Beth Lyons suggested we could try one word x 12 – a word a month for a year. Clearly I was addled by the thought of converting my entire class plans to online teaching because I thought this was the perfect solution. Had I paused (hmmm… there’s a word) I would have realized that this means having to choose a focus word TWELVE times. I did not pause. I told Beth & a few others I was in. Impulsive. There’s another word. Still, I like the idea of setting an intention each month. Over the course of a year, I sometimes get distracted – which may be why I still need to work on listening.
Beth took things down a notch by admitting that last year she often found herself choosing her little word somewhere in the middle of the month. This practice is both calming and intriguing: it allows me to choose a word that is aspirational – I’d like to focus on this for a while – and definitional – this is what this month is shaping up to be. It also recognizes that I am both a procrastinator (I’m writing this waaaay too late at night) and an observer. I decided to give myself a few days to consider what word might fit for January.
Last night I was up late trying to prepare myself for a week of teaching from home while both of my children have online classes and my partner works from home. I was feeling frantic and a little hopeless. I know that one way to quell this emotion is gratitude so, on the spur of the moment, I decided to write to several of the authors of the books my students are reading. Many of them might be surprised to find out that their novel is being studied in a high school book club and, for the most part, my students are loving their choices. I wanted to tell the authors that their work was making this moment a little more bearable. I wanted them to know that their work matters.
So I wrote. I put in a little effort, aiming for a tone that was light but sincere and adding some specific details for each author. I wrote about moving to online instruction – how hard it is, how my students are a little down and, almost as an afterthought, really as part of my attempt to find some upsides to where we are, I invited each author to come to our class for a few minutes if they wanted. I may have said “pop in.” I even decided to throw caution to the wind and write to some of the bigger names – doesn’t everyone benefit from a compliment? My students really do like their books. And then, one by one, I hit send. I felt a little silly afterwards, but whatever; it was done.
Y’all – one of the most well-known award-winning authors wrote back 20 minutes later and said, basically, “Thanks for the great email. I don’t usually do this, but I’d be happy to stop in.” There are some caveats – this is just for my class & will be entirely student-led – and I’m not going to share who it is because I think this kind of a private little thing, but the author is going to join our Google Meet next week – for an hour! I’m nearly giddy with excitement, as are the students who have read the novel. The rest of them are preparing by reading articles and essays. I honestly think we’re going to have a great time.
This morning, I realized that I’d found January’s word: ask. I like it. When I was growing up, my mother often said “it can’t hurt to ask” and “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” but I can’t say that I always followed her advice. So this will remind me to ask for what I want rather than assuming that I already know the answer. In the virtual classroom, I know that intentionally asking the students how things are going, what they need, what they are learning is part of what makes online learning work, so ask is a good word there. And, I have to admit, ask is pretty closely related to listen – after all, asking ideally implies that you will listen to the response – so I get to ease myself into my new little word.
I can’t wait to see how ask will show up this month.