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You Are Not an Island

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You Are Not an Island

help-islandI have been fortunate enough to be part of wonderful teaching communities.  However, there is one community that will, for me, stand out as head and shoulders above all others.  They were my lifeboats.

My first year teaching was a disaster.  I was hired to teach third grade after a teacher who had been granted a transfer returned to teaching middle school.  As a result, I walked into a classroom of students who had already established their own community based on another teacher’s guidance and expectations.  Likewise, I entered into a community of teachers who were already in full swing.  Annual book clubs had been established, committee positions had been filled, and it seemed that very few teachers ate lunch in the teacher’s lounge.  And so, I made my way the best I could, figuring out curriculum and district assessments.  I was even lucky enough to make a friend in the fifth grade hall who showed me how to write  report card comments without loosing my mind!

It was not until the following year, when as a result of  some staffing changes, that I met my lifeboats.  None of us had taught a full year of third grade before and we were all grappling with curriculum guides, guided reading, Everyday Math and Foss Science kits.  We were drowning.  It was time to sink or swim.

Slowly we began to turn to one another for advice, clarification and support. We joined one another for lunch and quickly developed a shared sense of responsibility.  Each of us had something to offer, whether it was a knack for looking at the “big picture,” sharing past experience to shed light on new situations, finding a way to organize our chaos, or sharing  expert knowledge that we could all use  to jazz up math and science lessons.  In short, we learned how to offer support, and ask for help.

By the end of the year, we had settled into a comfortable routine.  Our team functioned like a well oiled machine.   No longer was I an island, teaching in isolation.  I was part of a community – four women dedicated life long learning and to conquering third grade.

I was lucky enough to teach with these women for five years.  During that time, we grew beyond our roles as teachers and uncovered real friendships. We watched each other get married, have children and we supported each other when there were deaths in our families.

I will be forever be indebted to the women who were my lifeboats.  They taught me that the most valuable tool a teacher needs is a strong community.  A community that will support you when you make mistakes, celebrate when you find success and laugh with you when all else fails.

I encourage teachers everywhere to find strength in their peers.  Our profession is only as strong as our communities.  If you have been as fortunate as I was and have already found your lifeboats, don’t take them for granted.  Remember to let them know how much you appreciate and respect what they have to offer.

Tired of Sinking?  Try These Tips for Finding Your Lifeboats:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
2. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.  Offer your talents to the group.
3. Be a team player.  Recognize when team members are struggling and offer your support, whether it’s running copies or helping with behavior problems.
4. Don’t buddy up.  Make sure that the team functions as a whole.
5. Admit when you are wrong.
6. Get to know one another and develop genuine appreciation and respect for each other.
7. Celebrate differences – it’s okay if we teach things differently.  What really matters is that the children learn
8. Share books, share resources, share experiences.
9. Check in with each other at least once a day.  Make sure everyone is on the same page.
10. Remember that being part of a community is a privilege.  Don’t abuse your team.  They make the difference between sinking and swimming.

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