Relationships before tasks

I am in the middle of my tenth year of teaching. Even though I find myself complaining about constantly bringing work home, and the ever-growing workload, I cannot imagine myself doing any other “job.” The profession has changed drastically in the decade that I have been a part of it. Ask any teacher who has been in the field for more than five or so years and you are very likely to get an earful about the differences. But as I reflect on my journey, I realize that I have changed just as much as the role has. This year has been a big growth year for me as I continue to hone my craft.

When I first began teaching, I worked extremely hard to learn my content. I wanted to make sure that I knew the curriculum inside and out. I made sure that I understood it completely and that I could teach it multiple ways so that they “got it.” I was very much consumed with learning different strategies for teaching reading, various interventions for students who may have been struggling. I searched for multiple texts on one topic to ensure repeated practice and a complete understanding. I was hyper focused on the “book” side of teaching. I’m not for a minute saying that knowing and understanding your content is not important…because you can’t teach it well if you don’t know it well. But it is not the only side of teaching. I have always prided myself on having a great rapport with my kids, but I think that my focus being so much on the content – on the tasks – held me back from realizing my full potential to both educate and influence my students.

My shift this year in my thinking and my practices has been monumental. I began this year more focused on relationships. My relationship with my students, and their relationships with each other. My focus has been on creating a culture in my classroom where each of us has our own voice and we are each valued. So – let me pause and say that I have always felt that classroom culture and relationships are important. That concept is not brand new to me, so my focus is not anything that is earth shattering. The “A-ha” for me has been the change in where my priorities lie. Yes, I am still teaching my curriculum, but I am not tied to the pacing of that map. Yes, I am still assessing my students for their mastery of standards, but I do not derive my value as a teacher from one set of data. Yes, I am setting high, rigorous expectations for my students, but we are not defined by a snapshot in time or a grade in the grade book.

This year I have had to let go of a lot of “control” and trust what I know about relating to my students. It has been so hard for me to not get caught up in the race of trying to “cover” everything. Sometimes we have to stop and talk. We have to stop and listen. Sometimes, we just need to read a story “because.” We have started “soft starts” in the morning – just so we can hang out together. I have been so intentional about taking those extra 15 minutes to have conversations – sometimes about little stuff, and sometimes about BIG stuff. I’m learning so much about myself as a teacher and a person. I’m learning, in such a tangible way, that my students truly will learn what they need to learn even if we spend a day “off the grid” (shhhh don’t tell my curriculum director). As a matter of fact, having spent so much time establishing trust and relationships with my kiddos has had a huge impact on their classwork. They are safe. They are valued. They know that it’s okay to get it wrong.  Because they know that Mrs. Taylor will love them even if…. And I remind them of that every day. They are more courageous in their work knowing that as long as we are trying we are learning.

For many of you out there who figured their way through all of this a long time ago, you are probably thinking “well, duh”! Yes – it does sound so simple and makes total sense on paper. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, or I was too worried about test scores for too long when I should have been figuring this out. For those of you who do this so well, and share all of your experiences, thank you so much. I have been immersing myself in all of your shared practices and ideas.

One hundred eighty days. I am blessed to have these sixty-five best friends for one hundred eighty days. I take that blessing very seriously. It’s not really a long time to make an impact. I am passionate about making those days count. My deepest desire is that they will learn from me. That they will learn not only the content that I love teaching them, but more importantly that they will learn their value. And that I love them.

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