Yesterday was the deadline for the Iowa Teacher of the Year application. I finally submitted my 20 page dissertation covering a variety of questions and a resume. This process felt overwhelming at first, but turned out to be one of the most powerful experiences I have been part of in a long time.
It was not powerful because I had to toot my own horn, but it was powerful because of the collaboration and learning that took place. I was forced to really sit and think about what is really at the core of myself as a teacher. Going through this process I realized that I have constantly added more and more to my plate and collective toolbox as a teacher and have not stopped to really ask the question, “Why?”
Here are the key takeaways from the process
- What is really at your core?
Trying to craft answers to some heavy loaded questions on this application forced me to rewrite my answers four times. The transformation of first version to the fourth revision was not only inspirational, but a process that allowed me to find myself. I had to really strip away so many layers to analyze why I teach and what I hold dear to my heart. I think in this fast paced society we lose connection with what is the foundation of ourselves. We need to stop every once in a while and remember what we hold dear to our heart and then reconfigure our journey.
- We forget what we are good at!
Working solo on my application would not have been the best way to go about this process. Connecting and working with some dynamic people helped remind me of what I do well. Having conversations about education and talking about various projects and lessons helped to remind myself that I do some things really well. This is a key moment. Teachers need to find a group they trust and take time to talk about what we do well. It is vital that we are reminded of these things from time to time because we can get wrapped up in so many other things and lose sight of our abilities.
- Power of collaboration
This ties in with the answer above, but if teachers are not collaborating and holding deep discussions about education, then we are missing out on a vital part of the education landscape. Teachers need to craft time to have dialogue about education. Through this process I was engaged in some highly motivating and powerful conversations. Talking with other teachers who bring something completely different from myself was the key. We all brought in different perspectives and engaged us in several discussions that pushed my thinking. Often times teachers will connect in person and end up complaining. This is a waste of time. Teachers need to connect and hold conversations that drive them to new ways of thinking.
- Working with people different from self
I brought in teachers who have skills far superior than my own and in fields where I struggle. This was the most essential key to this process. You don’t want to sit around a table with like minded individuals. You need variety and perspective different from your own. This allows for a more fulfilling dialogue that drives everyone. By doing this and creating this community of diversity the other key points above fall into place. In order to challenge yourself you have to branch out and meet with people different from your own mindset.
- Our natural skills are not always seen by self
This one is similar to a previous point. What I want to stress here is that we all do amazing things. Most of us do some really powerful things and don’t even realize we do these things. Have conversations and talking about our teaching brings out these essential skills. Working through these questions I was exposed to things that I do that I never considered. I ignored these items because it just happens naturally and therefore I don’t give them any thought. This is a great thing. We all naturally do some powerful things in our classroom. We must remind ourselves of these things because it is important for us to realize what we do so well and naturally.
- Separate critique and feedback from personal feeling
This is most vital. I had to make it clear for them to hammer my thoughts and ideas. We need to have tough skin. We live in an environment where so many people take critique and feedback personally. You cannot do this. We have to understand when someone offers critique, feedback, or suggestions it is given to make you better, not to knock you down. I think that so many of us get feedback or a suggestion and instantly become angry because we think we are not doing something right. Just like our students, we have to rewire our thinking. It is time that we get back to the notion and learning is a journey. We do, we revise, and we improve. It is time to separate feedback from the personal level. Working through this I had to remind my fellow companions to hammer away. I don’t take it personal. I want to learn. I want to improve. In the end, we all learned and improved. It was amazing!
I will be sharing out my answers in bits to hopefully engage in some dialogue. From this experience I will be crafting a self reflection course for educators so teachers can go through the process I just went through. It was a powerful experience that really helped me gain a vision to where I am and where I want to be.
At this point I already feel like a winner. This process moved me and helped me grow as an educator. Even if nothing develops from my application I will be satisfied with the journey that I travelled to get this application complete. I really think every teacher should undergo this process which is why I will be creating a self paced course to do just that.