flickr photo via fdecomite
As I seek clarity and inspiration for another new school year, a recent conversation with my fellow nemeticists has once again got me thinking. As teacher’s work hard to prepare for the new year, and their levels of anticipation reach a fever pitch this September, it’s vitally important to stay grounded and focused on our fundamental purpose. But to do this we have to know what our fundamental purpose is. I believe that, more than anything else, teachers are in the story-writing business. The world we all share is one big story written by history. When teachers teach, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, they become part of this story.
As we run about busily making plans, preparing learning materials, attending meetings and becoming acquainted with new colleagues and families, it’s so useful to remember that everyone involved in our schools arrives with a story that contains many, many chapters already written. Students, their family members, our colleagues, administrators, paraprofessionals and teachers themselves all possess their own stories… it’s the fractal narrative that each one of us brings to the education table; our personal history. When we weave these narratives, they begin to evolve into a giant, interactive, interesting and engaging story with millions of subplots.
How ironic it is then, that so many of us will feel quite alone as this new school year begins. A new year brings change, and change can make us anxious and stressed, unable to escape from the islands of uncertainty that so many of us feel. But that’s the point; we share these feelings. We are not alone. We are living the human condition together and our collective story is a sum total of each one of our individual stories… every chapter that’s written. If we can understand and embrace the fact that our stories bind us together, albeit as experienced from each of our unique perspectives, perhaps we can let go of some of the isolation we feel and begin this school year as a mission to hear each other’s stories. Doing so will help us see that we are truthfully not alone. We are connected within our networks of learning in ways we don’t even realize, and the more we become aware of each other, the more we become aware of our connectedness; how our learning stories are interwoven. We have never been alone in truth, only in perception.
Sharing the stories we have already written opens our eyes to each other and creates opportunities to collaborate on the chapters that have yet to be written this school year… the learning that will take place; the friends we will make; the challenges we will overcome… the tales that will evolve into evidence-based hope that we’re on the right track. We shouldn’t be writing these stories alone. As we weave our narrative webs together, we emerge ever-closer to the dreams we all possess; the chapters we help each other write.
Perhaps Michael Josefowicz (@ToughLoveforX) said it best today. We were talking about ethical frameworks in education, and particularly about who is responsible for ensuring things are done righteously and responsibly. I have always believed that so much can be gained from people taking personal responsibility for the directions they move. In college I used to write the phrase “if it is to be, it’s up to me” inside the cover of each of my notebooks to remind myself of this belief, and to motivate me to keep striving to work harder and be better. In education, the fractal efforts of each single teacher across the system amounts to one massive movement forward toward positive education improvement if every one of us agrees to take this stance. Michael put a spin on the phrase changing it to “if it is to be, it’s up to we.” Brilliant.
Teachers have to be what they want education to be. We have to talk to each other about improving education, and we have to support each other’s efforts in doing that. We have to do this. So much can be accomplished through this collaborative, focused and unified effort. The time some of us spend pointing fingers and complaining about negative influences “beyond our control” would be so much better spent doing good within each of our classrooms, getting results and sharing them as broadly and unapologetically as we can.
We are here in education together; it’s happening now. Every class we teach is a new opportunity to embrace now. We need to talk collectively about what we want in education; where we want it to go and what it should be. If it is to be, it’s up to we.