School starts in full tomorrow! I am filled with the joy and terror that comes at the beginning of every new school year. In many ways, I am no different than the students, asking myself the same questions:
“Will I do well this year? Will they like me?”
“How can I make sure my weaknesses don’t defeat me?”
“Is it possible to not make the same mistakes all over again?”
Like my students, I want to be my Best Self this year in school. I want to do it all right, have energy and enthusiasm for each lesson and for each student. I want to avoid exhaustion and discouragement. I want to understand each problem and find an immediate and perfect solution. I want all my skills to shine: my writing to be clear, my speech to be insightful. You name it; I want it to be the best!
Unlike most of my students, however, it almost makes me smile to know that, with all of the best goals in the world, I still take myself, strengths and weaknesses into school each day. While I want only the strengths and abilities to be visible, the weaknesses and mistakes will find their way in as well. No matter how hard I try, I will never escape the days or the minutes when I don’t understand, when I am tired or confused, when I simply want to be done.
Over the years, though, I have learned that they can be an important part of what I have to offer to my students. As they can live with me through it all, the high moments and the lows, sharing in the challenges and the successes, then together we can grow. No student who enters through the classroom door is perfect, so working out how to be the very best students and teacher, the best people we can be, in spite of our weaknesses and failures, is part of what I want in the learning that happens in my classroom.
To make that happen, my classroom needs to be a place where we all are safe to learn, making mistakes and figuring out the lessons that can be seen through them. That is where I can not fail! I must never tolerate, from myself or from my students, any word or action that belittles the thoughts of another. Every moment needs to be vigorously protected from cruel criticism. I must create a space where all of us are safe. That is my first and foremost job. We all learn best when we can safely take risk and experiment with new ideas.
I know that I will make mistakes during the year: plan lessons that simply are not interesting and engaging, forget to finish a task that needed doing, say something that didn’t lead to learning and understanding. I have to turn those times, and all of the others like them, into learning times, modeling that making mistakes does not need to be scary or humiliating.
Part of it is sharing the disappointment at not getting it right. None of us wants to fail or get it wrong, even when we haven’t done the necessary work to get it right, we still hate the feeling of failure. Talking about what I didn’t get right and showing a way beyond it is a valuable lesson. They need to learn that none of the mistakes is something BIG, either about me as a teacher or about them as students; it is simply a time to assess and figure out how to make it better next time. If I can model that learning is ongoing, that mistakes do not need to stop that process, then perhaps they will join me, and together we can create a great learning year.
So here’s hoping we all do well this year, undefeated by our weaknesses and strengthened through our journey together!