53 + 17 weeks: Do I Believe Romantic Love Exists?

I am a skeptic.  On the one hand I want to fall in love, and stay in love.  In reality, it is perhaps more precise to say that I want to know if romantic love actually exists and if it comes with a death-do-you-part ending.  My rational, logical side finds it hard to imagine that two people are meant for each other, or that you “know” when the person is “the one”.  But is that because this knowing is so subtle as to be undetectable to those like me who are unfamiliar with its vibration, or because it takes your breath away when it happens and I have yet to experience that breathlessness?  Since I seem unable to identify it, I cannot rule out the possibility that it may once have happened to me and I lost it.  That is probably the real reason I am now a skeptic.

I may never unlock this mystery because my skepticism is the shield I use to cover my grief and my fear.  I’m scared to find the answer, all the while knowing that the only way I will find out is to risk having my heart broken.  There is no avoiding heartbreak regardless of the answer.  Even upon discovering that romantic love actually does exist, it only postpones the inevitability that my heart will be broken if/when my partner dies before me.

Perhaps I haven’t found or been found because I’ve refused on principal (and even scoffed at friends who have made lists) to make a list of my ideal partner.  I guess it’s a place to start. What would be the traits of my ideal romantic partner? They would be…

  • A Kindness-mentor, first and foremost and not just with me, but with everyone
  • A role-model for gentleness and acceptance, even at times when a line must be drawn
  • A helper, sharing in the responsibilities of daily living based on strengths and interests
  • A supporter, yet knows when to leave me to my struggles without it being a punishment
  • A protector, not Rambo but someone who instinctively walks closest to the street
  • An entertainment conspirator, able to take the lead on planning and execution of fun
  • A humorist, someone who is undoubtedly more funny than I am, but gets my lame jokes
  • The person most-likely-to-be-available for spontaneous interactions
  • The person whose schedule I’m most likely to consider before making other commitments, and vice versa
  • Living together? Uncertain but willing to discover or create mutually fulfilling alternative
  • Financially undependent, an equitable ratio of shared expenses based on earnings

“I want a relationship that is somewhere between traditional and modern” sounds like such a cliché.  I think my parents were ahead of their time because my mom almost always worked, and she worked a lot.  My dad had a very precise schedule and was home much more than she.  He enjoyed reading and listening to his music, but he almost always washed the dishes and in later years did all the laundry.  There were some “traditional” duties each of them never gave up until my dad’s cancer made him too weak; my dad always mowed the grass, my mom always cooked.  Dad took mom (and me) out to dinner almost every Friday night that I can remember.  My dad always paid the bill at the end of the meal.  My ex-husband almost always paid the bill, and in white linen restaurants even communicated my order to the waiter.  I’m a sucker for that. I don’t expect it, it’s simply hard to break a tradition that in my world exemplifies a “protector” trait.

  1.  Setting my skepticism aside for a moment and allowing myself to imagine having a romantic partner, it’s important that a partner understand that they are highly likely to have more disposable income than I do because of the work I do and the glass ceiling the profession imposes on me.  This does not mean that I am looking for someone who will “take care of me” in the financial sense.  I am not looking for a partner who will start making car payments for me.  I am fully self-sufficient precisely because I do handle my finances pretty well given what they are.  Realistically, this does mean that a disparity in income requires expenses associated with a relationship (entertainment, travel) be shared in relation to earnings, not split 50/50.  My partner would need to be accepting of the reality that a disparity in income will probably exist between us forever.  And they need to understand that this restriction is what imposes on my disposable income because my living expenses are my first priority. I don’t buy on credit.  In my chronicles of past dating, there have been partners whose interests and hobbies required more disposable income than my budget allows, being too embarrassed to admit my inability to bridge that financial divide I hide behind excuses that I’m too afraid to XYZ or that I don’t know how to do XYZ.  It does not mean that I wouldn’t be willing to try if money were no option.  I use these excuses rather than be embarrassed to point out that my income is less than yours especially at my age, level of education, and skill.  I’m even more embarrassed that unless I do point this out (or even when I do) I run the risk of being stereotyped as either another woman who only wants to talk about money or another one of “those women” who are just looking for a man to take care of her financially.  I don’t need your money; I need a partner who is willing to step into some (not all) of my usually less expensive recreational pursuits if for no other reason than it enables me to feel like I am making a contribution to our having a relationship grounded in mutuality.  I have been the breadwinner during downturns in my previous marriage.  I don’t think I want to do that again outside of an emergency, so I respect your having similar feelings.

2.  I’m 53 and I imagine that a partner would be the same age or older.  Maybe I should imagine someone younger?  Regardless, I don’t know how well I would handle being in a relationship with someone who were retired or semi-retired, but who also didn’t have some major plan or interest that still excited them.  I am an entrepreneur and workaholic.  My mom was an entrepreneur and a workaholic.  My ex-husband is an entrepreneur and workaholic.  Would I resent a partner who does not have the hard-driving energy I experience in life?  I think it would depend on what a partner is doing with their life, which sounds judgmental – I can’t quite find the words, but I think I mean that rationally I recognize that people (partners) experience life in different cycles, and that each of those cycles comes with its own levels of energy, creativity, downtime, need for introspection, action, and inaction.  But I’m an illogical human being at times.  A by-product of that is that I am prone to fits of resentment when I perceive that a partner is “being lazy” when spending an entire day to lay about while I work.  The reality is that I know I need to be asking myself, what work am I (not) doing that I then resent what anyone else is (not) doing?  There is a fine line between owning my resentment for what really is, and facing the reality that one, both, or either of us are not making good on agreements held between partners.  This is perhaps best explained by way of example from my childhood; my dad seemed to be at home all day, every day after he retired – he’d go out to get the oil changed on the car (code for he went to the neighborhood garage in the barrio to hang out with the guys), he’d drive to the lake house to mow the grass a day ahead of my mom (code for he needed a day – or in later years an entire night alone — out in the wild).  However, I don’t remember him doing this without first doing the things that daily life demanded – cutting the grass at home, doing the laundry. Which is probably what lies at the heart of my inability to resolve this issue for my self – I want a partner who is a lot like the image I hold of my dad because my dad shaped my image of what it means to be “a man” and therefore, “a partner.”  Just reread the bullet list if you don’t believe me. Although it wasn’t intentional, looking at what I wrote I can see it’s a profile of my dad to a large degree.

3.  I want to laugh.  I know I will cry.  I may get annoyed or even angry over something erroneous, when considered in hindsight.  I will apologize.  I do work very, very consciously to not blame. I am not infallible about anything written in this epistle, and am much chagrined when I discover I’m not.  I have a bad habit of expecting you (whoever you are) to be infallible, although I am vigilant about noticing it for what it is and letting it go without involving you.

4.  I want the person I’m in a relationship with to be an example of the kindness that I aspire to.   I want the lessons lived in the relationship to help make me a kinder person, but not cause me shame when I find I am otherwise. (Reread paragraph immediately preceding.)

5.  I say I want transparency and honesty in a romantic relationship, but deep down I question if I’m mature enough to really handle that.  Maybe I don’t know exactly what this even means.  As of right now, I think I mean vulnerability although that word seems overused lately.  I know I don’t want the other person to lie just because they don’t want to hurt my feelings or because they think they should say what I want to hear.  I want us to say what needs to be said in a safe environment and with kind intentions, not hurtful, and especially not blaming.  I will act on my freedom to ask for clarity, while realizing that I cannot demand an answer.  This will be frustrating.

6.  I want to be with someone who is a friend who also loves me in a romantic way.  There are a few things in life it’s kind of difficult to do without a romantic partner.  I suppose I could settle for a dog, but I don’t allow furry animals on the couch and I’ve never seen a dog tango.

7.  I’m not sure how I feel about sexual intimacy.  At this point in my life, I certainly don’t feel the urgency nor does it have the priority it once carried.  In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t keep adult toys in my bedside table.  I have not read, and don’t intend to read, Fifty Shades of Grey.  I don’t consider myself a prude, sex is simply not something I think about.  I mean, if you moved to Arizona, wouldn’t you likely stop thinking of snow after a while?  Kissing and hugging, especially wrap-your-arms-entirely-around-me hugs is where it’s at for me.  Kissing sounds fun.

8.  Relationships I admire for various reasons and probably reflected in my “fantasy romance”:

  • Rachel & Mikael (my daughter and son-in-law),
  • Judy & George (my eighty-something year old friends who still throw full-moon yoga parties around their outdoor pool),
  • Dave and Earlene (my mom and dad icons of romantic love),
  • David and Lora (my brother and sister-in-law who married as high school sweethearts and are still married),
  • Beth and Kenny, (my friends who married later in life and hold every Sunday night as sacred pajama night – meaning early into pajama pants, a home cooked meal and watching movies as a method of staving off the Monday morning blues)

9.  On the matter of living together; I’ve surprised myself in the last two or three years with wishful (or wistful) imaginings of coming home to someone.  (A househusband?) It’s more of a sensation that I’m looking for, I think.  But I’m not sure.  I’m exploring the feeling of whether it’s loneliness versus tired-of-living alone, by renting my spare bedroom for four months to a young woman recently moving here to attend university.  Having her here will enable me to explore the differences between just wanting someone around (which will actually be a test of endurance for me), the possibly of wanting “the right person” around, or confirming that I do indeed still enjoy living with no other person at all.   I’m testing the hypothesis that I might merely be looking for a sense that someone is at home waiting for me, although my renter and I will clearly NOT have a romantic partnership.  In a romantic partnership I’m looking for someone to whom I can always return, and have confidence that we will both be content to see each other. (Notice I did not say “happy”, which I think sets up a problematic expectation.)

10.  Maybe this idea of coming home to someone is also linked to my father.  His shift at the post office ended at 3:00 every day, which meant he was almost always home when I arrived from school. And with rare exception, I knew I could find him in his brown tweed-covered lazy-boy rocking chair reading the newspaper or a magazine, bare footed, one leg crossed over the opposite knee, his reading glasses falling slightly away from the bridge of his nose, with the TV on or listening to music.  The table lamp beside him casting a glow in the family room that was never sunny because of the large trees and metal awnings my parents had placed on the house to protect windows from hailstorms and rain.  The occasions for me having to enter an empty house without him are so rare I think they never happened, but surely they must have. Funny that I don’t remember ever expecting my mom to be the one at home when I arrived.  On the other hand, it was so common for my dad to be there that I never even realized until this very moment that what I’m searching for in a romantic relationship is an underlying sense that when the expectation of a daily reunion is fulfilled, there is a sense of rightness and a sense of having arrived home that is present in that moment of reconnecting.  This is an elusive concept to describe, and perhaps even more elusive to put into practice.  I may never find it again.

And so, I can only consider from behind my shield of skepticism whether it is coincidence or providence that my uncertainty about falling in love ends with homecomings.

 

 

 

 

Collaboration versus Consensus

At the 15LCS (2015 Leadership for Change Summit) last week one of the speakers made a comment that has stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this, “Most of us say we want collaboration, but what we really want is to reach a consensus. And it’s important to know the difference.”

I see more of myself in that statement than I care to admit — despite the fact that I like to think I teach my students and help my colleagues to “collaborate” on assignments and ideas on a regular basis.

The more I think about the difference between the pathways and outcomes of collaboration and consensus, the more I realize that nothing about the way we design education places collaboration at the pinnacle of best practice. At best, I might be teaching students to work together to reach the one correct response or solution…which is ultimately, reaching consensus on what I’ve pre-determined to be the correct answer. Sure, I allow – even encourage – students to reach consensus by collaborating on their rationale, but I can’t say that I actually place people in charge of their learning to the point that they’re free to collaborate to an answer that was beyond my lesson objective.

Daniel Pink might tell me not to worry so much about whether I have too much consensus going on in my classrooms and workshops. He might even tell me that there’s really very little I can do to avoid, much less eliminate, it. “The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial for our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are…selling is fundamentally human.” (To Sell is Human, Pink, p 6) Coming to consensus means selling our ideas. And, if for no other reason, I don’t know how to separate consensus and collaboration.

So, can I really allow collaboration to unfold? How does one break the cycle of consensus so that collaboration can grow? I think I’ll start with deeper listening, less talking, and a heavy dose of self-reflection. The next time I’m about to open my mouth, I hope I stop to think…am I truly collaborating or am I trying to build consensus?

Clearly the speaker at 15LCS was not trying to say that I needed to sacrifice consensus at the expense of collaboration, but rather she was emphasizing that there is a time and place for each. And knowing what the situation calls for is just as important as understanding the nuances of each.

My final question is whether I can teach students to value collaboration in an educational system that insists on students out-performing each other with every assessment. Do we pay lip service to collaboration in education by insisting on a winner-take-all mentality of high-stakes assessments and entrance exams specifically intended to rank and sort students by individual ability?  These are questions for another day.

Thanks for reading.

 

Beginning Again

This week begins the process of administering English language screener and placement tests to several hundred adult students in the adult ed program where I teach evening classes. Adults from eighteen to sixty-plus years old experience embarrassment and anxiety as they struggle to perform tasks they might do without effort in their first language. Some students arrive for the assessment not knowing enough English to ask for help with writing their name and address on the enrollment card. Despite best efforts to place students into groups of similar English proficiencies, classes of up to 30 students per teacher become largely multi-level classrooms.

This is also the time of year when I perform my annual review of what teaching means to me and what it looks like in my classroom. A requirement of my post-bac in TESOL from Seattle University was for each person in our cohort to draft a personal and original statement representing his or her professional guidelines for teaching. We were given several days to create them, with the expectation that at our final session we would read them aloud to the entire class. The day arrived and each of us listened intently – bearing witness as it were – to our individual ideas of what was most essential to our newly formed commitments to being great teachers. It was a powerful way to integrate all we’d learned, and all we hoped to accomplish.

I remember our instructor encouraging us to keep our guidelines someplace safe so we could review them at the beginning of every school year.   Yet she cautioned that what we’d written at this time – the start of our careers – most likely represented our loftiest ideals about teaching. She shared that as she progressed in her career, she continued to modify and adapt her guidelines to be more realistic. I think of her advice every time I read my personal teaching guidelines because I actually do read them every year – often more than once a year. And every year I’ve ignored the last part of her advice! In the nine years that have passed since drafting my guidelines, I have resisted refused to edit them precisely because they are idealistic. I refuse to edit my personal teaching guidelines because if I compromise, I will lose the authenticity of who I am as a teacher and as a person.

This is the first year that I’ve questioned whether my obstinacy is a good thing. Are my ideals outdated or underdeveloped? Or do they reveal something that I can count on for a sense of direction under the mountains of consumer-driven teaching methods, strategies, techniques, and fads that are pitched to me on a daily basis?

For example, just this weekend I received a Fall 2015 catalog from an education publisher that focuses solely on “Resources for Gifted, Advanced, and Special Needs Learners”. The catalog contains no less than 362 different “teaching and learning tools from the advanced learning experts!”  This is an example of how my professional guidelines anchor me – they represent for me what I hold in my mind’s eye as my best self on my best day in my best moments. My professional guidelines were written long before I was constricted by words like differentiation, assessments, rubrics, performance calculations, sub-groups, super-sub groups, and classrooms that are data-driven.

So yes, I hold fast to my professional teacher guidelines specifically because I wrote them at a stage in my development when my perspectives were highly idealistic, even simplistic. I intend to do everything within my power to offer students opportunities to learn, and to do so in ways that are authentic and empowering.

Above all, my professional guidelines are highly personal. And after re-reading them this year, I realize that because I still wouldn’t change a single word that I still care just as deeply about teaching and learning as the day I wrote them. More specifically, I care deeply about teaching and learning well. And I’m not afraid to care deeply despite the frustration and the exhaustion of doing it in a system that would more often prefer I do it by the numbers or by someone else’s strategies rather than authentically.

From William Ayers book, To Teach

“The rewards of teaching are neither ostentatious nor obvious – they are often internal, invisible, and of the moment. But paradoxically they can be deeper, more lasting, and less illusory than the cut of your clothes or the size of your home…There is a particularly powerful satisfaction in caring in a time of carelessness, and of thinking for yourself in a time of thoughtlessness.” (emphasis added) (Ayers, page 2)

“The teacher must find ways to choose and to act in a shifting, uncertain world. She must find ways to take responsibility for her teaching without guarantees. This, we shall see, requires a teacher to be wide-awake and fully present in her teaching; it requires a kind of heroism in the classroom.” (Ayers, p 21)

“This in no way implies a lack of concern for academic rigor or excellence, or for teaching basic skills, but it does mean that skills are taught, for example as a result of concern for the person…to choose teaching is to choose to enable the choices of others…it is easy to dismiss talk of ethical action as romantic, foolish, or even quaint…The problems we face today are not essentially technical or materials problems; they are, at the heart, moral problems.” (Ayers, p 23-24)

  • This year I will review my professional guidelines more frequently throughout the year and reflect on them in whole or in part.
  • This year I will read the whole of Ayers’ book, To Teach.
  • And this year, through the process of self-reflection I commit to being “wide-awake.”

Thanks for reading!

 

Rediscovering my learner-voice and my story of learning

Hardly a day has gone by since attending the Krishnamurti summer educator’s retreat in Ojai, California, that I don’t anticipate how the experience will factor into my work with students, or recognize how it’s already impacting my work with educators. As I write this post, two weeks remain before students return to class. But teacher training and work with colleagues has already begun.

One of my fellow retreatants sent an email reminder of homework given to us by our facilitator, Dr. Gopal Krishnamurthy.  At the closing session he asked us to complete the following:

If learning is __________ then teaching is ___________.

If learning happens __________ then teaching happens _________.

In my current environment this means _______________.

Here’s how I fill in the blanks:

If learning is to be transformational then teaching is a continual cycle of inquiry and self-reflection.

If learning happens through self-reflection then teaching happens when I honor multiple ways of knowing.

In my current environment this means I will listen and watch for more opportunities to “take myself out of the way”, so to speak. I will know I’m practicing this when I step back, remain silent, listen with intention, and allow students or teacher-professionals to explore a concept and express understanding in ways I might not have conceived of or “planned for”.

An unexpected result for me from the Krishnamurti retreat has been a resurgence of my inclination toward ways of knowing rooted in intuition, contemplation, and self-reflection – all of which factored heavily into my Master’s thesis about ways of knowing. When I first arrived at Creighton University I took to the study of mystics and spirituality like a duck takes to water. But at some point after graduation, I couldn’t get past the sign-posts used by even the mystics I loved the most. I came to a point where it didn’t matter whether I was encountering Christian symbols, Buddhist symbols, Jewish imagery, or Sufi metaphors…the very use of any one word or concept concretized the communication in such a way that I couldn’t get past any negative notions I connected to a particular vernacular (i.e. God, Christ, the Buddha, Lord). Without realizing it and for various reasons, I had come to the Krishnamurti retreat having thrown the baby (a mystical learning style and intuitive way of understanding the world) out with the bathwater (religious symbolism).

So I’m surprised to find myself at home after the retreat, digging out my Thomas Merton books, re-reading Buddhist sutras, and pondering Rumi with renewed interest. Why now? After seven days devoted to the intense study of one of Krishnamurti’s most essential writings, Learning and the Significance of Life (which is filled with exhortations against organized religion among other things). Why has the California retreat led me back to a path and way of understanding the world that I was certain I’d left behind – outgrown, if you will. Am I Krishnamurti flunky? (Is that theoretically possible?)

Partway through the retreat I found it impossible to ignore the connections I was making to Krishnaurti’s thoughts and those of Cistercian monk and writer, Thomas Merton.[1] Merton’s essay “Learning to Live” was the basis on which my entire thesis rested. “The least of the work of learning is done in classrooms…whatever you do, every act, however small, can teach you everything – provided you see who it is that is acting.” (Merton, p 366-367)

Whereas Krishnamurti seems to have eschewed religious (and spiritual) influences, Merton chose to study, appreciate, and integrate perspectives from traditions far beyond his Catholic interpretations specifically to expand his ways of knowing. This allowed Merton to understand “the wisdom of the human family.” (Cunningham, p 6) Merton didn’t abandon himself as I had, but rather he seemed to find himself through an inquiry of monastics and mystics in vastly different contexts.

Or was Krishnamurti not quite as sterile as I thought? In the course of writing this post, I stumbled upon this YouTube of Krishnamurti entitled What is a Spiritual Life? https://youtu.be/xXnbH6v7pWg  in which Krishnamurti gives a nod toward “monks” as not religious.

But do I need to give up Krishnamurti for Merton, or vice versa? Can I deepen my understanding of the world around me by embracing both? And more importantly, what concepts from each can I practically apply to broaden the scope of my work in public education?  Short answer – no I don’t, yes I can, and let me explain how I plan to do it.

I love the way the Universe works! Since returning from California, a colleague in Kansas City shared a deeply meaningful and practical article about critical teacher reflection. Authored by Tyrone C. Howard, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection provides a rich discussion supporting contemplation and self-reflection as practical and necessary to the craft of teaching and learning. I highly recommend reading it in full text. Paste this link into your browser to access it: http://onnetwork.facinghistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Howard-Culturally-Relevant-Pedagogy.pdf

For Howard, “The term critical reflection attempts to look at reflection within moral, political, and ethical contexts of teaching.” (Howard, p 197) Merton sought to unite “head and heart, philosophy and contemplation” (Cunningham, p 6) in his writing and in his mentoring of novitiates. And in the two I see that “transformation of mind and heart is the issue…” (Cunningham, p 7).   Krishnamurti also recognizes that without self-reflection little may change in the relationship between teachers and students, “By being fully aware of ourselves in all our relationships we shall begin to discover those confusions and limitations within us of which we are now ignorant; and in being aware of them, we shall understand and so dissolve them. Without this awareness and the self-knowledge which it brings, any reform in education or in other fields will only lead to further antagonism and misery.” (Krishnamurti, p 85)

Returning to the practical approach that Howard describes as, “The willingness on the part of teacher educators to share their own lived experiences, expose their own human frailties, and reflect on their ever-evolving identities within a community of diverse individuals”, he offers suggestions on “how to translate critical reflection into culturally relevant teaching.” (Howard, p 200).

For example, this summer’s retreat has given me an opportunity to reconsider aspects of certain tools I use, like rubrics. At present I find them useful and valid within the context of my environment primarily because I create rubrics to keep myself accountable for ensuring equity when evaluating student work. However, I can also appreciate the necessity for examining whether a specific rubric might end up being more limiting than equity-building if it restricts the expression of knowledge to a stringent model that I have created from my worldview or limited understanding of the content. This is particularly challenging given that I work with students from a vast number of cultures and a variety of languages in an education system that demands knowledge be expressed in only one language (English) to be valid!

This year I am committed to exploring some of Howard’s questions along with many of my own. Howard’s suggestions for reflective questioning include:

  • How frequently do I differentiate instruction?
  • Do scoring rubrics give inherent advantages for certain ways of knowing and expression?
  • Do I allow culturally based differences in language, speech, reading, and writing to shape my perceptions about students’ cognitive ability? (p 200)

In addition to a commitment to answer these questions, I will add a commitment to:

  • Reflect on my current practices in order to understand the difference between instructing, educating, training, and teaching.
  • Incorporate less conceptual knowledge into my practice and increase experiential ways of knowing.
  • Unite head (pedagogy), heart (empathy), philosophy (inquiry and ethics), and contemplation (critical reflection and deep listening) in my teaching practice, and integrate them into the learning atmosphere I offer students and colleagues.

In my search for practical examples of self-reflection as teacher practice, I stumbled on a recent example posted by a former professor of mine, Dr. Andria Stokes at Avila University. In a post on her blog for the Center for Transformational Learning, she applies self-reflection to her role as a student advisor:

“I had to ask myself if my advisees were taught from the beginning to build their learning and social experience at our university, or did I simply share the “required classes” within the time structure that was offered? After a lot of thought, I believe I attempted to accomplish the use of discussion and questioning during advising, but what I did not have was [anything] created by the student to show their thinking during our sessions. What I had was a bank of notes I took to show I covered the needed content.

AHA!  As a faculty member, my job during advising should help the student create a draft of his or her story of learning, make intentional edits along the way, and support each student in creating his or her own voice as a learner at our university.” (emphasis added) — Dr. Andria Stokes

It’s my hope that through a contemplative, self-reflective practice which includes writing my “story of learning”, that I will better support students and fellow teacher-practitioners this year in finding their learner-voices.

Thanks for reading!

[1] You can find Merton’s essay “Learning to Live” in the anthology Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master: – The Essential Writings edited by Lawrence C Cunningham.

Use what you know

I pursued my current position as an ELL Instructional Specialist (English Language Learner) because I wanted to share and refine my ideas about best practices in teaching English language learners. While my first love is working directly with students, I also derive a deep sense of satisfaction from supporting educators in the development of their teaching practice.

Sometimes I encounter teachers who seem to have lost their sense of direction. This isn’t an accusation. It’s purely an observation substantiated by what I’ve experienced at certain times in my own teaching practice, and derived from what I sense when working alongside teachers in their classrooms or in professional development sessions.

In the process of learning more about how education policy is created and how the many layers of bureaucracy impact what I teach and how I teach it, I sometimes feel disempowered to actually provide students with the opportunity to learn. I question myself. Which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. But the insistence that I use off-the-shelf, standardized tools often obfuscates rather than clarifies if what I know to be true of my students is more or less accurate than what an off-the-shelf curriculum or assessment indicates should be true of all students.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to approach me in pursuit of the perfect strategy, the quickest or most sure-fire way to catch students up to grade level, or the best way to interpret the results of a standardized assessment. They start with a question that seems innocent enough, What do I do…?

Other times I encounter teachers who are attending a professional development session because it’s required. The question varies only slightly in the tone of exasperation it carries, Now what do I need to do…?

This year my response to either question is going to be, “Use what you know.” At first blush, use what you know may sound like a non-answer.

I heard the phrase while attending a yoga class. The yoga teacher modeled the postures we were going to practice, then invited us to arrive at the postures in ways that adapted to our individual bodies. She would follow each demonstration with the phrase, “Use what you know.” There was something very freeing about being told to draw on my inner resources and my understanding to arrive at the destination.

Similarly, the intention of my classroom instruction is to empower students to draw on experience and inner resources in order to learn. Ultimately I desire for them to be in control of their learning.

I’ve realized that my intention for working with students mirrors what I want to convey to my colleagues as well. Specifically my goal is to empower students and colleagues not only to use what they know but to trust what they know.

Learning to use what we know protects us from the complacency that comes from being told how to do everything. Teaching others to trust what they know encourages creativity and broadens the scope of possible solutions. Ultimately, by framing a learning experience this way I empower myself and others to turn learning into knowing.

Thanks for reading!