Friday, November 6, 2015

Finding Joy

What gives you joy?

Putting my feet in the East China Sea after a day of work gives me joy.

The color of a dragon fruit smoothie gives me joy.

Learning and growth give me joy.

Learning and growth give me such joy—whether it’s experiencing it myself, sharing it with someone else, or seeing it happen in someone else—that’s something I just re-realized about myself. Which is why I am thankful for a job that challenges me to always learn and grow and gives me opportunities for relationships with colleagues where we can share our learning and growth so we can help students learn and grow. I had many little and big moments of all of the above this week, and I could probably write a whole blog on each of them, but for today, I’m just going to list and celebrate them.


I experimented with photojournalism. (See photos above.) That sounds pretty bombastic. It’s just that I’m mostly about words, though I understand images are powerful for many people and play a particularly big part in internet communication. So for a variety of reasons, for the last week I’ve been taking a few pictures each day on a certain theme or slice of my day and posting them on Facebook. What’s most interesting to me is how looking at my life through that lens shapes even my own attitude toward my own life—looking for a unity, an angle, or a storyline creates one. That’s an insight I’m bringing back to English class!

I wrote with students. That’s a goal I always have, but only infrequently accomplish. Tuesday I wrote a timed AP-type essay with my AP Language class. Funny, but it’s sort of intimidating. What if, after all my posturing as an expert on writing, when I actually have to write what they write, it comes out awful? That thought itself could be an important thing to share with kids. It didn’t come out awful—though I almost hope it does sometime in the future, so they can see that timed essays are terrifying for everyone, everyone has bad writing days, they are survivable, and first drafts are never fantastic, which is why for most writing situations, multiple drafts are essential. I also learned some empathy and earned a slightly different place in the debriefing discussion afterward.

I started to read a new professional book. Moving into a new school and new position, I’ve been spending my time rehashing what I already know, figuring out how to apply it to this institution, to this class. I didn’t realize until I started reading So What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning by Cris Tovani, and getting excited about some fresh input and ideas, how much I missed that.

With colleagues:

I had many conversations about teaching, short and long, virtual and in person. A response to my 3-minute walk-through follow-up email, a Facebook interchange about Medea, an office drop-by to express appreciation for a chapel talk, or a 45-minute sit-down discussion about writing assessment and instruction—all of these give me joy.

I prepared to facilitate 2 professional development opportunities. In spite of what I said above about fresh input, I also get excited all over again about sharing the ideas and discussing with colleagues what implementing them in our classes could look like. The opportunities are 30 minutes in a Monday secondary meeting about reading in the disciplines and a book discussion of Understanding by Design starting Tuesday.  

For students:

I read and responded to student journals on the book Night. This showed me great thinking that’s happening and allowed me give pinpoint feedback for encouragement and instruction. I’ll give you one example. Student: “The process of the father’s death was so painfully slow that it made the 2 sentences inferring his official death so much more painful.” Me: “You do a great job noticing style—how diction, imagery, syntax subtly reinforce an emotion or a message. Note that imply is what the book/speaker/writer does in communicating; infer is what the listener/reader does in interpreting.”

I recognized a remark in class discussion as an opportunity to ride authentic student inquiry into a significant course topic. It started with a student observing that an author referred to America as she. Another noted how ships are also she. In fact, a lot of things are she. A guy can refer fondly to his truck or his guitar as she. Speculation on that led us into other gender language issues, then racial language issues (black? African-American?), and who decides what is appropriate. When I said, “A word is just a sound—a community is what pours meaning into that sound,” one student clutched his head dramatically as if it were about to explode with the paradigm shift. And at the end of the class period I could say, “And that discussion was not a digression because you may have a question on the AP test about word meanings and connotations and how they come about.” Thank you, summer AP seminar!

What opportunities do you have to learn and grow on your own, with colleagues, and to pass it on to students? I hope yours make you as happy as mine make me. 

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