EducationHabits of MindHumanitiesTechnology

What I Learned This Year in School

By December 31, 2015 One Comment

The idea for this blog came to me when I was on a plane from Cleveland to Charlotte after shadowing Ann Klotz at Laurel School. Shadowing Ann was a required part of my graduate work that turned out to be a life-changing experience.

I really dislike flying, so I was trying to think about the future rather than the present, in which I was buckled in a chair in the middle of the sky. I thought about Ann and what she represents to me and to many others she has taught or mentored. In addition to running a truly wonderful girls’ school, teaching English there, and raising her own children, Ann is a powerful writer who publishes her work in the Huffington Post and other places. Seeing her in action at school, and reflecting on her contributions to family, education, and journalism, I was inspired to create something, too. Thus, the blog: what I learned in school today.

My goal at first was to post twice a week. I figured that would be easy; after all, I usually teach every day, and that takes a lot of planning and thinking. But I was wrong — it was much harder than I expected to compose my thoughts and observations into succinct paragraphs, and I knew I needed to write in a way that was both short and sweet. I quickly shifted to posting once a week and, when things got very busy at school and in life, once every two weeks.

But despite the unexpected challenges, I vowed to stick with it because, in addition to wanting to create a platform for sharing ideas, I also hoped that blogging would help me to become a better teacher, mentor, and role model for my students. They know that I am interested in and a little worried about technology’s impact on things I cherish — identity, voice, relationships, reading, and habits of mind (like research, communication and the writing process). I wanted to show them that although I am wary, I can try new things. I wanted to join them where they are.

After one year and 54 blog posts, I can see that blogging has taught me a lot — greater discipline, for one thing. It has also pushed me to develop a clearer voice, to read more and talk more, and with more people. In truth, I learned a lot more than I anticipated I would learn. That’s how school, and life, are.

Some of the other things I learned this year in school:

  • That it’s important and okay to fail — as students, as parents, as people. I know I failed in some of my posts. But I also know that I gave each post as much of myself as I could. (See especially Jessica Lahey,The Gift of Failure.) Also, and phew, that vulnerability is a strength. (See especially Brene Brown, Rising Strong.)
  • That talking face-to-face is a human necessity. (See especially Sherry TurkleReclaiming Conversation.) And that with technology, as with everything else, adults need to model the behaviors we want our children to adopt. (See especially Catherine Steiner-AdairThe Big Disconnect.) I agree with Scott McLeod that if we don’t participate in the digital world with our children, we risk becoming “dangerously irrelevant.” (See his blog Dangerously Irrelevant.)
  • That we all still have a lot of work to do when it comes to discrimination, especially when it comes to race. (See especially Mahzarin Banaji,Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People.) And that across our nation — and in our classrooms — race always matters. (See especially Ta-Nahesi CoatesBetween the World and MeBryan StevensonJust Mercy.)
  • That Twitter is interesting and actually fun. Where else can you tag someone you don’t know and tell them, hey — I read your work, I liked it, and it made me think. (Thanks to Lindsey Mead, Nina Badzin, and the other fabulous writers @Great New Books.)
  • That a key to adapting to the many technology-driven changes in teaching and learning is to have more empathy — for teachers and students alike. Both are faced with an ever-expanding set of expectations in an increasingly competitive world. It often feels like the road to making things quicker, easier, sleeker, and smarter is filled with complicated messages and unwieldy tools. Everyone needs a bit more space and time to work it all out.

A final takeaway, but not one that’s in any way new, is that I am married to a wonderful husband. He reads my work amid his own deluge and has the affection for me to interrupt what he is immersed in to give me honest and helpful feedback. I’m indebted to him for his input – although I still don’t love hearing him tell me that what I’ve written “feels like two different pieces” or that it isn’t good enough (yet) to publish. Everyone needs an editor, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have one.

Ordinarily, I use a syllabus to frame a class so everyone knows where we’re going. But this year with my blog, the syllabus wrote itself as time went along — demonstrating once again that no matter where it happens, school is always in session.




Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.

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