Sunday, November 25, 2012

Booth Babblings

Several weeks ago I started a post titled, Combating Cultural Germs. This piece never came to fruition, and today I am grateful I refrained from littering the blogosphere with my disgruntled complaints about the toxic nature of my current employment circumstances. After a week long vacation and reading several chapters of Jim Knight’s book, Instructional Coaching, my attitude is slowly beginning to improve. I spent some much needed time in the reflection booth, and my unflattering character defects surfaced quickly.

Here’s the truth. I am arrogant, critical, and judgmental. Some of my deeply held assumptions about teaching and learning have stood in the way of my success as an instructional coach. Because of my unwillingness to get clear on my values and define a set of principles to guide my new work, I have made some epic mistakes. I have alienated teachers by pushing my own agenda, and I’ve failed to honor choice, authentic dialogue, and reciprocity. My na├»ve ideas about reshaping culture were quickly dismantled, and once again, pride and the illusion of control have wreaked havoc in my life.

In my most recent reading endeavors I’ve learned two new very important terms: praxis and tacit knowledge. In a nutshell, these can both be defined as learning by doing. An example of this might be learning to ride a bike without training wheels. You can read all the books in the world and have someone demonstrate for you, but until you find your balance and skin your knees several times, you don’t actually acquire the skill. Obtaining this kind of knowledge requires a great deal of grit and determination which are only developed through trial and error.

For the first time in my life, I am beginning to cultivate an appreciation for struggle. These last few months have been some of the hardest of my professional career in public education, and I no longer give lip service to perseverance in the face of adversity. Failure has been my companion, and on the hardest days, I’ve wanted to quit and run back to the safety of the classroom.

However, I keep showing up. I return to the arena, often stumbling out crippled and bruised. Remaining vulnerable and avoiding the shame gremlins has become the fight of my life. Many days I feel like I am teetering on the edge of a tightrope extended between theory and practice. I think back to my teacher prep- program, where professors diligently pumped us full of philosophy and pie-in-the-sky pedagogy. Prior to stepping foot into a classroom, I thought I knew stuff. It didn’t take long to discover I was clueless about the brutal realities of being a public school teacher. In many ways, I feel like a “newbie” all over again. I don’t like not knowing, and I stink at embracing uncertainty. Why did I choose that silly word for 2012?

I will return to the trenches tomorrow, and hopefully I will be better prepared to face the challenges of this new role. I want to live out the seven foundational beliefs outlined in Jim Knight’s book, but it may take me a while to fully embrace them all. I will mess up over and over again, and hopefully the teachers I am partnering with will offer me the grace and forgiveness we all need.

In order to maintain my passion for education and my personal sanity, I think I may need to revisit the reflection booth more often. 

“Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise theory becomes simply “blah, blah, blah,” and practice, pure activism.”
~Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

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