Eyes Open Moment: Guiding Words

Eyes Open Moment: Guiding Words

It was August 2020 and we were just stepping back into the classroom. What had been familiar and welcome for so long was suddenly a questionable space. I was lucky enough to work with a team of teachers dedicated to our students, and to each other, and devoted to making the transition into the unknown world of teaching in person, in the midst of a pandemic, as smooth as possible. 

We moved through the regular topics of planning: welcoming students, writing parents, setting aside the range of books we would read on those first days of school. We made a list of questions that required some guidance. Could students share materials safely? In what ways could partner work still happen? How could we project our voices so the students, now socially distanced, could still hear us, and each other? 

It was the most unusual experience I’ve ever had in teaching. Everything went back to our regular pattern of preparation when everything else in the world lacked any semblance of normalcy. 

In all situations the only thing we can truly control is our own choices. In the classrooms, our choices have a serious impact. Teachers set the tone of the space we share with our students. This holds gravity in all grades, and especially in elementary school, where we spend more waking hours with our children than they spend with their parents. 

Wanting some semblance of control, I had no choice but to look internally. Grounding myself required me to create and sustain some measure that I was on course and moving through the year with my priorities intact. Working on instinct I named three words that resonated with the way I wanted to shape our classroom that year. 

“When we are unsure about how to proceed this year, in daily choices or plans let’s ask ourselves three questions. Does this build Joy? Does this develop our community? Does this help grow independence? If the answer is yes, we proceed.” 

All year long those three words, Joy, Community, and Independence lingered. Written in the corner of my whiteboard they served as a daily reminder. A dear colleague had them posted on a note at home to provide direction during her nightly planning. Two years later, these words hang in magnetic form in my classroom, and the classrooms of my colleagues. 

It should not take a pandemic to articulate our largest goals, but sometimes emergency situations provide clarity. Although my daily work in schools has shifted, as I gather with students and teachers and parents these words remain a bolster. It’s so easy to get submerged in the minutiae, but the big picture goal always brings you back to shore. 

Joy. 

Community.

Independence. 

As you head into this next school year. What words will guide you?