Over the last four years I have had the privilege and honor of working with one of my educational idols, even though I didn't realize it until recently. Her name is Linda and she is a classroom teacher in our elementary school and after a phenomenal career, that spanned about 40 years, she has decided to take her journey in a different direction - she is retiring. The thing that impresses me most is that she is going out on top - she is basically the "Seinfeld" of teachers! She is still "getting the highest ratings" and her retirement is leaving people shaking their heads - why retire when you are still making such an incredible difference and having such a tremendous impact on the people around you? Just like Seinfeld impacted pop culture on various levels for many years, Linda has impacted the lives of children, parents and her colleagues on various levels for decades! Linda is one of my educational idols because she has changed me - she has made me a better father, husband, educator, leader, friend and person by allowing me the opportunity to be a small part of her journey.
During my 15 year career in the world of education, I have encountered many teachers/administrators/etc. who have decided that it was time to retire. The one thing that most of these retirees had in common was that retiring was really the best option for them - and everyone around them knew it too. They stopped taking risks in their learning and teaching; they felt that they had nothing new to learn because they had experienced it all; they started to see their administration, some colleagues and even students as roadblocks instead of vehicles. This is definitely not the case with Linda. She could easily teach for another 30 years because her passion for learning and teaching are stronger now than when she started her amazing career. Linda is a magnet for everyone in our community - students, colleagues, families, and administrators all want to be in Linda's presence because they know they will learn something and they will walk away in a better place. This is the reason for this post - people who don't know Linda need to know about her! Educators who are just starting out should use Linda as a model for what they should be striving for each day so they can have an amazing career that spans 40 years. Educators who are nearing the end of their journey should remember Linda when they start to feel a little stagnant.
So, what specifically can someone learn from Linda? Well, the list is endless, but these are some of the most important lessons that this educational idol has taught me...
1. Instead of saying NO, ask WHY NOT? Whether working with a student who wants to do something differently in the classroom or dealing with administration that is pushing the implementation of a new program instead of shutting it down right away, see the positive in it, find something you can support, give it a try and ask WHY NOT?!
2. Teach the WHOLE CHILD! Yes, the academics are important and they are the focus for most of the day but make time to allow for opportunities to help the whole child develop and grow. Have a class meeting to discuss issues that are important and relevant to the class; allow the students an opportunity to research a topic that is of personal interest to them and let them share their knowledge with the class; spend a little time with each individual child every day so you can connect with them and be their support system and advocate when necessary!
3. Thinking outside of the box should be more the norm than the exception! Take your students' learning beyond worksheets and textbooks - tap into their passions and creativity and use those as the vehicles for learning!
4. DIFFERENTIATE for EVERY CHILD in some way, shape or form! Whether letting students focus on topics of interest when appropriate or teaching to the various learning styles and readiness levels of your students, find a way to differentiate and personalize the learning experience each day for all of your students!
5. Make time to COLLABORATE with your colleagues! Some of the best teaching and learning may be happening in the classroom right next door to yours but you may never know if you don't open your door and share with the people around you. Why re-invent the wheel if someone already created it and all you have to do is tweak it and make it work for you and your kids? Why deal with the stresses and challenges of teaching alone when there are likely many other colleagues feeling the same way? Why not take the time to celebrate your successes and the ones of those around you? All of this, and much more, can be accomplished through collaboration!
6. Have FUN with your learning and teaching each and every day! Let your colleagues, administration, students and their families see how much you love to teach and learn - that love and passion for what you do will be infectious! And forget what you heard in your schools of education in college - it is ok to smile before December!
7. Don't let your fears or discomfort limit the learning opportunities for your students - figure out a way around them! Linda is somewhat of a self-diagnosed technophobe (we all have our flaws). Recently I introduced Prezi to our staff at a Faculty Meeting as an alternative to PowerPoint. Although Linda didn't necessarily feel comfortable with the tool herself, she did think her students would love it so, she came looking for me the next morning and asked that I share Prezi with her students. Linda did not allow her discomfort of technology impact her students in a negative way - she found a way around it - and in the end, Linda and her students were the first group to successfully use Prezi in our building.
8. Be the voice of REASON and HONESTY even when its not easy or popular. If you have a student who is struggling with something and their family doesn't realize the severity of the issue - don't shy away from being honest and sharing because in the end, you are trying to do what is best for children. Or, if a colleague is reacting to something from an emotional place, help them slow it down and reflect on the issue from a place of logic and reason. This is a difficult one to accomplish but so important!
9. Treat every single day as an opportunity to learn, grow, try something new and take a risk with your own learning and teaching!
10. LOVE and RESPECT ALL OF YOUR STUDENTS regardless of their backgrounds, issues, personalities or needs. Your students need you in their corner everyday and they will need you the most when they are most challenging and difficult!
Although this list could go on forever, I think the message is clear - Linda is an incredible educator who has gotten better each day and is truly going out on top! For all of us who have years of teaching and learning ahead of us, let Linda be one of our educational idols; one of our role models; one of our examples; one of our goals; let Linda be the reason we ask WHY NOT? instead of saying NO!