One of the best and worst things about teaching is the schedule; early mornings with an insanely intense pace during the academic year, but complemented with vacations every couple of months and a summer that makes even those in the corporate world envious. While classes are in session, teaching is a profession that is always on. During working hours there is a constant need from students, parents, administration – and when the day ends it’s time for curriculum planning, assessments, report writing, professional development, and a host of other tasks that are impossible to tackle during the day.
This means that during the academic year it can be difficult to carve out time for reflection. When I worked in consulting, we found that the most effective organizations built in time for reflection. It proved significant for high functioning teams as well as innovation. It wasn’t just a touchy feely luxury to foster corporate culture. It actually improved the companies’ bottom line. We used to refer to such organizations as “Learning Organizations” – because they were constantly improving themselves and analyzing their operations and processes. We saw a direct correlation between reflective leaders and highly performing organizations.
Shouldn’t schools by their very definition be “Learning Organizations” too? In an ideal world, education would have this same opportunity for teachers to reflect – on what is working and what isn’t; on how the class is gelling, on how lessons are reaching the kids, and on how to bring emergent curriculum into the classroom. Unfortunately, the teaching schedule rarely allows for this space of thought.
Summertime is a respite from the grind of the school year and a convenient time to decompress and gain perspective on the past year as well as the one coming up. It can be a time of formal inspiration like seminars and classes, or more unstructured time spent recharging. The less frenzied pace of summer allows for breathing space and from that comes valuable reflection time.
Personally, I am always reflecting on community in the classroom and ways I can enhance this concept with my own class. Over the course of the summer I have been bombarded with new ideas and fresh perspectives on community. You see it in summer camps, in family BBQs, on vacations with friends, in yoga classes, during clean-up days on the Boston Esplanade. Community is everywhere. Summer just makes it all more apparent.
I continue to be fascinated by the ways groups work well together. How community can bring out the best in individuals working toward a common goal. How strangers interact with one another and how intimate family members try to get along. From what I’ve observed and reflected on this summer, the classroom environment needs to be a place where kids feel safe to be themselves and respected for their contribution. It is the job of the teacher to enable that environment and help kids tap into their individuality as it pertains to the larger group.
Let’s reflect on that.