My Next 20 Years

As some of my blog readers know, I’m a big fan of country music. This song by Tim McGraw is one of my favourites, and it was the one that I was humming as I started to think about this blog post of mine.

I might not have another 20 — or 30 — years in education (or maybe I will), but no matter what the number, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past. I just finished my 20th year of teaching, and with two big pivots online and a socially distanced kindergarten class, it might have been one of the most challenging years of my career. But with a fantastic teaching partner by my side, Paula and I came out smiling, and we hope that our kids and families did as well.

Thinking then about the past 20 years and my time going forward, what are my five big takeaways?

  • Be authentic. Kids know when you are, and they know when you’re not. I really saw this as I listened in on some conversations online. Many of these conversations evolved because of the comments that Paula made to our students. It was the questions that she asked and the anecdotes that she shared. Giving children a chance to talk, but also nodding along, making eye contact with them, and varying pitch to show excitement and interest, made big differences. I have to wonder if we would have had such a strong community of learners without this authenticity.
  • Prioritize relationships. I know that I’ve heard this advice for 20 years, but I’m not sure that I actually made this a priority until I started working with Paula five years ago. She does this very naturally. She takes time to find out what matters to kids and to their families. Not only does she know the students that are in hockey, baseball, dancing, and gymnastics, but she knows about what all of their siblings are also doing. I remember back at our last school — pre-COVID — where we would have students visit our classroom years later because of their relationship with Paula. Sometimes lunchtime and class time involved these visits because this is what these kids truly needed. I realize that COVID restrictions make these visits harder, but I have to wonder if a Teams drop-in might work for some students, or even a socially distanced visit outside. I’ve started to notice that when time is invested in these relationships, the interest in connecting goes well beyond the school year … and that’s truly a wonderful thing.
  • Make the environment responsive to kids. I remember when I used to keep the classroom environment and the seating arrangements the same for the entire school year. I thought that I was giving children what they needed with consistency, and there is value in consistency, but as I read more about the environment as the third teacher, I realize that my thinking was flawed. Making changes with kids, to be responsive to kids, has value. While there were fewer changes that we could make this past year due to COVID restrictions, sometimes moving spots, adding materials to spaces, or varying heights (from sitting on a chair to lying on the floor), had value. Maybe COVID has forced us to be more creative with these environmental considerations.
  • Develop strong connections with families. In my first year of teaching, my step-dad suggested that I call parents on a regular basis to connect with them, share some good news stories, and find out what they were thinking and feeling. With his advice, I began to call parents once a week. Over time, and in response to a wonderful conversation that I had with Aaron Puley about different ways that families might like to communicate, I began to offer phone call and email check-ins to interested parents. I moved from doing this once a week to every other week, as then we had more to talk about. Twenty years. Eight schools. Seven grades. This remains one of the best choices that I ever made, and has helped me develop great relationships with families.
  • Never underestimate students. I mean this when it comes to all children of all ages. This is largely the reason that I am reluctant to use worksheets with children, as I think that kids can do so much more — and go so much deeper — than they can with a worksheet. I love that our Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes the need to provide real world problems to kids. It also makes me realize though that Paula and I can do even more than what we have done in the past. My last blog post started this conversation, and a recent professional read of mine continues it, but in a different area. Learn more. Do better. That definitely applies here.

What would be your list of five takeaways? Looking back at this post years from now, I wonder what takeaways I might add to this list. Will any of them change? For those that are looking for a new country ear worm, here are my takeaways as verses in a modified Tim McGraw song.

In My Next 20 Years

In my next 20 years,

I’ll be the best of me.

I will show kids that I care

About what they do, say, and see.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll learn much more.

About the kids I teach

And the families they adore.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll take a look around.

How do kids use the space,

And how does it sound?

In my next 20 years,

Home and school will be one.

I’ll really listen to parents

As they share what they have done.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll remember what kids can do.

Big topics and new learning

Will be in store for me and you.

I might not be the next country star πŸ™‚ , but thankfully I still have teaching, and am still loving it as much — maybe more — than I did twenty years ago. Here’s to a wonderful summer and another year of joy and learning ahead … hopefully with a few less pivots!


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