It’s not about me #SOL22 30/31

If you read my blog regularly, you might remember that I had a – ahem – challenging class last semester. You might remember because I wrote about that class here and here and here – and that was just the first few weeks. Oh my.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I *liked* the students. They are fun and funny and smart and honest and many other wonderful things, but teaching them all in one classroom for two and half hours (thank you, Covid) was not straightforward. In the end, I did an ok job – not great, but ok.

I thought what I was most worried about was reading and writing skills that had atrophied a little during online learning, but when I reread my blogs, I remember that we were also working on social skills and work habits. It was a lot.

Since then, I’ve talked about this class in two separate PD sessions where teachers and coaches from across schools were planning for “de-streaming.” (Next year, our school board is ending streaming for grade 9 and 10 students in all subjects. This will require a shift in our mindset and our teaching practices.) The first time, a Black educator I didn’t know but who is deeply dedicated to equity, pushed me to redefine what qualifies as success for my students. I bristled; he suggested that for some kids success is “just crossing the school’s threshold.” I’ve done enough work with students damaged by our system to know that he is right, but inside my head I wanted to scream, “That may be enough for you in your position, but once they cross the threshold and they come to class, then success changes – and then *I* have to give them a grade.” I didn’t say that, our breakout room ended, and I let it sit in the back of my mind, where I could come back to worry over it from time to time.

Today, I brought up this class again. I talked about students who refused to read or who did very little work. I was lucky enough to be in a group that allowed me to speak openly. I spoke about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and my fear of what happens when we allow students to move through the system without the skills they need for success. One colleague – an Indigenous teacher and deep thinker – challenged me to think about grapho-centrism and what that means for our students and our culture. This resonated with me because I was recently on a podcast panel where we discussed multimodal essays and the myriad ways that people can express complex critical thinking.

I sat with my colleague’s ideas for a few minutes, but soon I was worrying aloud – again – about how I can help students become literate, be able to write well. At this moment, another colleague – younger than me and also fiercely dedicated to equity – said, “I notice how much you’re using the word I.”

Whoa. She was right. I was centering myself. Oh, sure, my focus was firmly on my students, but it was also on what *I* could do to help them. When I stepped back, I realized that I have now heard from two colleagues – gently, kindly – that I am, perhaps, too much in the centre of my practice, that I might be playing the role, even unintentionally, of “white saviour” – at least in this instance. (Though they never said those words.”

That’s a tough one for me. As a teacher, I want to help – I mean, it’s kind of my job to help. On the other hand, as a white woman who is constantly working towards anti-racism and equity, I know I need to “hold myself in healthy distrust” (Kike Ojo-Thompson). My colleagues’ questioning and observing has me thinking about the ways in which I can re-centre student voice and goals. I don’t know the answers yet, but I know that if I’m talking about a class, and the most common pronoun I use is “I”, then I need to rebalance my thinking because it’s not about me.

It’s good to have such thoughtful observant colleagues. This is how we get better – together.

21 thoughts on “It’s not about me #SOL22 30/31

  1. This is such a good observation — and I feel really similar. It suddenly becomes “I” need to…what can “I” do…you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

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    1. Sometimes it has to be “I” because I am the “lead learner” – in other words, I’m an expert on learning. But I also need to remember that I can’t fix everything and that I’m not the expert on their learning. It’s such a delicate balance, really – my ability to help and their agency both need space.

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  2. Whoa. That’s a lot. You are very lucky to a) have colleagues who are comfortable enough to be critical friends and b) be willing to hear them. It is such a good reminder.

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    1. I’m not worried that I’m dramatically centering myself which makes it easier for me to hear their observations. And they are observing the way I speak, not the way I teach, which also helps. It’s just something I want to think about, and this blog is a great place for me to think – so I’m doubly lucky: lucky to have these colleagues and lucky to have people here who help me reflect.

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  3. I love how this comes – as so many things do – in three. Three different experiences that you found the connection among and are using to better yourself. It reminds me of one of Brene Brown’s rapid fire questions on the Dare to Lead Podcast: What is a hard leadership learning or lesson, that the universe keeps putting in front of you and you have to keep learning it and re-learning it and unlearning? Thanks for facing it and sharing so openly!

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    1. I hadn’t even notice the threes, but it’s true! I like the idea of this as a hard lesson that I keep learning. I don’t think I center myself too dramatically, but I do think I have to remember to find ways to team up with my most challenging students rather than doing things for them.

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  4. You are so lucky to have colleagues who can get you thinking like this. You’ve got me thinking too. Also, I think it also says a lot about you…your reaction or rather, reflection.

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    1. Thanks. I wrote this in another comment, too, but I think it helps that this is a minor thing, not a major one. I certainly don’t run a teacher-centered class! But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to think about “savior” tendencies and making sure I’m balanced so that I’m helping, not saving.

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    1. So much of these conversations seems to me to be not about answers but about process. Here, I feel that my colleagues are reminding me to look for ways to be aware that teachers (including me!) are part of a team that includes the student and other teachers. I am a good teacher, but it’s not on me to “make’ anyone read – it’s on me to try and to offer opportunities… Hmm… but now I’m thinking again. It really is about the questions, isn’t it?

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  5. This is me, cheering you on! And this is me, being grateful that there are folks in this world who will receive critique with both hands, full intention – like the gift that it is. And you know who is the primary beneficiary of this learning and vulnerability? The kids in your care, who feel the effects of your own evolution and growth. =))

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    1. I am really aware of how much my teaching practices have changed since I started 26 years ago. And I want to be clear that these colleagues offered their honest observations without judgement or rancor. They were doing me a favour by reflecting deeply on what I said. I wish that we all had others around us who would listen this way; I hope that I can be that person for others, too.

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  6. Amanda, this is a lot to think about, in part because teachers have been indoctrinated to think in terms of what they—in the *I* sense—can do, should do, will do. When teachers are asked, what are you going to do for that kid, teachers respond in the *I* frame. Since my retirement I’ve found myself seeing teachers as pretty *I centered* too. I did not realize this while in the thick of teaching. I do struggle w/ the expectation English teachers should shift focus away from being literate readers and writers, but I also understand English is a power language often weaponized against other cultures. I need to study more and have some books in the wings that might impact my thinking. So much more to say about these important issues.

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    1. Oh Glenda. I would LOVE to discuss this with you. I am really struggling with how to rethink reading and writing. I *am* graphocentric and I’m not convinced I’m wrong – but I’m also not convinced I’m right! I feel like you, Melanie & I (and probably some others!) need a book club. 🙂

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  7. Well, I’m doing some thinking/reflecting as well, because as I read this, I was getting a bit defensive on your behalf. I don’t really think of teaching as a “white savior” situation, but maybe I need to adjust. You’re probably using I a lot because you are reflecting on your own actions and practices. That’s not a bad thing. I actually think that there are a lot of teachers who use “you” or “they” too much because they are shedding some of the responsibility, putting the “blame” for some classroom challenges on the students. It’s always great if you can take an observation and be reflective…as you are doing here, but sometimes using “I” is the more responsible pronoun. Of course, the more student-centered a classroom, the better, since you are empowering and sharing ownership of the learning and direction, but you are still the voice of experience and a lot of learning.

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    1. Thanks for coming to my defense! I have to say that I don’t think my classroom is especially teacher-centred. I *do* think I need to consider when it might be time for me to let struggling students step up. Sometimes I think I over-own their problems – as if I could magically fix the problems if only I were… better? Different? The truth is that if they’re struggling, I need to use my own teaching super powers AND let them own their own work. Hmm… even as I type, I’m thinking about this. I know I’m not dramatically teacher-centred or anything, but I also know that I need to step away from the idea of saving kids – even though I’m actually really good at helping kids to trust themselves enough to read and write. It’s complicated!

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  8. I enjoyed eavesdropping on this door-opening professional conversation as you present it. It reminded me of a bit I heard recently in an audio book where the author (and speaker) made the case that his ideal creative mindset was similar to the state of looking at one of those weirdly fragmented 3D-effect posters. To realize the effect requires an intense stare at the same time as an unfocused gaze. That contradictory sweet spot feels akin to the one for which you’re aiming. Or my analogy-seeking brain might’ve just jumped the tracks 😮

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  9. So much wise reflection here! What amazing colleagues you have! Their observations and questions are the kind that help us grow, and how rare to have a space where colleagues can ask these questions of each other. I think this work of reflection and recalibration and the need to interrogate our role and our assumptions never really ends–and especially when we are committed to liberatory pedagogies. The quote from Kike Ojo-Thompson is so good.

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