It’s been almost two years since I’ve been part of the D100 blogger PD group and I’m thrilled to be back. If you haven’t had the chance to catch up with us this round, we’ve jumped into reading Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller, which helps teachers to free their teaching and revolutionize their classroom. I’m fortunate enough to work in a district that truly promotes and embodies this practice throughout all 8 of our schools in the district.
“What do you do when your work life is so full you don’t have time for the people who matter most?” This is the primary focus as Miller opens up chapter 15, “Choose to Cheat.” At the time when I first read this book, I was a first-year teacher who wholeheartedly gave everything she had to her career and wholeheartedly gave nothing to everyone and everything else. I did not prioritize any of my friendships, my relationship, or my family. But, reflectively, and I think most importantly, I didn’t prioritize myself, my mental, emotional, or physical well being. The idea of “work-life balance” made me audibly laugh. At the time, I didn’t know what boundaries were, let alone how to set them. I truthfully didn’t even know the word in the context of my personal/professional life until last year when someone asked me the question “did you set any boundaries?” To which I responded, “what’s a boundary? What do you mean?” Looking back, reading this chapter as a first-year teacher, sure I read Miller’s words, but certainly did not know how to put them into practice. In his writing, Miller states that as teachers we often cheat, but with the wrong people, or in the wrong circumstance. I was cheating all along my first-year teaching. I cheated on my family, my friends, my relationships, all for my career, both in the classroom and out. I thrived in the classroom and pushed myself to the limit. I prided myself on the classroom I built and matched my worth as a professional on the quality of my classroom. This is common of so many teachers because the stakes are so high, and our hearts are so easily overtaken by the 28 faces that look back at us every day. What every teacher eventually needs to come to grips with however is that the cheating often needs to start in the classroom or within your career, but the way I’d like to articulate “cheating” is just setting boundaries. When we can successfully set boundaries in our lives, professionally and personally, all the things that I cheated on i.e. my mental, physical and emotional health, become easier to navigate and make a priority. Sometimes, as Miller says, “we have to set aside really good, really exciting ideas, and that’s okay” because it will make us more balanced and also takes away from us doing “too much.”
In his next chapter Miller talks about the MED or the minimum effective dose, defined as the “smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome.” What Miller suggests is that teachers work too much and do too much in their day-to-day. Cutting back their work to the “MED” could “optimize [their] time and resources as educators.” So how do we do this, while still making sure we’re effective teachers? By setting boundaries, or knowing when to stop and also by keeping it simple. Remembering that students or your audience will only take in what they deem to be interesting or necessary for a test, or life. All of the extra efforts can be futile if no additional results are being produced. Of course, if additional results are being produced that otherwise would not have been, then certainly maintain the work that you’re doing, but consider how you could optime your efficiency or time when doing so. Miller alludes to “marking” or “grading” papers and how it consumed hours of his time, and for what? His students looked at the grade and tossed it into the nearest garbage can. So, he made a change. Instead, now his kiddos blog and he is able to help them on the writing process as they’re writing and editing. He creates buy-in with an authentic audience and gives the students something strategic and specific to work toward. They are able to work side-by-side with one another and the product and outcome are substantially more meaningful, powerful and worth it in the long run, instead of wasting countless hours grading worksheets and papers. Thinking about ways to amp up your lessons, while also saying “no” to monotonous activities and plans that don’t take your teaching and your student’s learning to a higher level, is a perfect way to start boundary setting in your professional life.
When looking to amp up the teaching and learning happening in your classroom, many teachers choose to be a “Connected Educator” as Miller would say, through building their PLN online. Most social media hubs are bubbling over with incredible opportunities for professional development in your pajamas that allow for “inspiration, motivation, challenge, camaraderie, apps, and often most importantly, humor.” This blogger PD, though tardy, because I don’t know how to set boundaries with others to prioritize previous commitments, *see the importance of that above* is a great way for me to continue my professional learning, gather ideas to amp up the teaching and learning in the classrooms that I enter, but also keep me connected to educators both in my district and across the nation.
I also am an OVERSHARER by nature. I like to pride myself on being an open book, maybe often times to a fault. However, Miller validates this characteristic of mine by suggesting that as educators, we SHARE EVERYTHING! By sharing what we do in our classrooms and districts, we are able to gain ideas, philosophies, practices, tips, tricks, tools, and most importantly heroes and friends. It’s great to be able to communicate with others and collaborate virtually just through sharing. But there’s more to be said than just sharing ideas. It’s easy to get swept up in the dark hole of social media and fall into the comparison trap when you start sharing. You begin to judge yourself based on what others are doing in the classroom. As a way of combating this, I like to share my vulnerabilities with the educator world in hopes of creating space for individuals to share things that they’re failing at as well or things that they struggle with. In doing this, it’s my hope that we can hold space for one another to feel okay to try and fail, but also learn from ourselves and one another in doing so. After all, it’d be selfish to only share your great things.
The beauty of being able to share for me happens through lots of different venues, social media, my blog, and now my podcast. Since I work in a district that has always created space for me to be autonomous, I feel that I have had far more success and passion than if I were to work in a place that did not allow for that. Miller suggests in his chapter “Find What Makes Them Tick” that it’s important to determine what works when it comes to motivating students. Since I no longer have a class of my own, I’d love to take a look at what this could look like for myself, or for the teachers that I work with. As I said, my ability to choose, and allowing choice both in the classroom and amongst the teachers that I work with creates “freedom” in the work environment. Digital tools allow us to choose how to create and what product we will end up with, just as I have done with my blog or my podcast. However, I’m not even close to being the “master” at any of these digital tools. I love taking what I know about something, and diving in with another teacher, to move toward mastery on a subject. Acknowledging that someone else on my team, or another teacher that I work with, “knows more than [I] do about something disrupts the comfortable balance” that we get from being in the “all knowing zone.” But truly, anyone can be an expert about anything, especially in this day and age, so why not use our best resources EACH OTHER, and our kiddos, as a way to move toward mastery. Finally, talking about your students, or your “purpose” when trying to motivate is extremely important. On our team, we like to call this our “why.” Why we do what we do every day. In my podcast, I talk a lot about analyzing our actions and how they move us toward or away from our “why.” Keeping our why in mind both when we’re working teachers and with students, and keeping that as our main focus when planning, keeps us aligned with the work that we choose to do. Additionally, Miller talks about choices, challenges, curiosity, cooperation, and friendly- competition being important qualities of motivating students and teachers that you work with as well.
Thanks for supporting the #D100bloggerPD book study. As the study continues in the upcoming weeks, the hyperlinks to each #D100bloggerPD crew member’s post will be added HERE, to keep Matt Miller’s tips from Ditch That Textbook in one spot. We hope you continue to follow along with us! Next up, IT WORKED with Chapters 20-24.