Supporting Ourselves as Learners

When a colleague recently forwarded me an email with the subject line “Wow!” and I saw a video labeled “When a Lesson Goes Wrong,” admittedly I was more than a little bit pessimistic. I’ve never been a fan of reality TV, nor have I seen Hollywood successfully portray the realities of the classroom.


However, in this video of Sarah Wessling’s lesson gone wrong,we face the reality of what it means to be a teacher on a day-to-day basis. As much as we want to talk about what it means to be a reflective practitioner or what it means to have an administrator support such practices, the reality is we often have 3-5 minutes to revise and do it all over again. (This of course assumes necessities such as food, water, and a bathroom break can be forgone for at least another 50 minutes.)

I used to think educators were like conductors in an orchestra, drawing together the best ideas and resources to create the elusive perfect lesson. In Sarah Wessling’s video, we are reminded that our work as educators might be more like jazz. As the musician in this metaphor, we are asked to continually practice in front of a live audience. Even as we trip over a high note, we are thinking ahead to when we will next need to play that note.  In classrooms across the country, our students gently remind us on a daily basis that there is an element of improvisation to this work.

Just like the jazz musician responding to the contributions of the other musicians, we find ourselves as educators needing reminding that our students are not objects to be acted upon. Like the program that lists a particular song , our teaching may start with a list of standards, but what we do in our classrooms is in response to what we see in our students on a daily basis.

As we return to school this semester, let's think about the baby steps we can take that might make a difference in how we support ourselves as learners. Whether in a jazz ensemble or a symphony orchestra, the musicians do not always practice alone. In that 16 minutes I got to spend in Sarah Wessling’s classroom as a viewer, she reminded us of the importance of having someone to reach out to, someone to share our practices with. Those brief exchanges of ideas won’t make the song perfect, but it will be better than the last time. It is the iterative nature of learning that continues to nurture us in this profession.

This semester offers a fresh start. How will you support yourself as a learner? Do you have that someone to turn to for advice in a pinch? If you are the sole math teacher in a rural school or in the one and only first grade, have you found that place where you can go for support on a moment’s notice?

I invite you to share your ideas by posting Comments below. It may sometimes seem that we're alone in our questions and thoughts, but together, we can help each other find connections, even when there are none on the surface.