There are a number of voices in my head who talk to me all the time. No, I am not confessing my questionable sanity. Instead, I am suggesting that you get your own voices to listen to. My voices, the chosen ones anyway, are the voices of the people whose wisdom keeps my compass pointed at true north while I journey towards the answers that will lead me to be the educator I dream of being. One of those voices is my coordinator, Greta, whose remarkable knowledge and sense of timing always leave me with something to think about that requires prolonged thought and practice. The nuggets she shares are like bones to a dog. I find myself thinking about them, gnawing on them, walking away for a bit, but always coming back to savor them later. The lessons I learn from Greta are almost always a marriage of research and practice, and they have me evaluate my teaching methods in order to enhance or purge them in efforts to perfect my overall toolbox. Another emerging voice in my head is Alyssa. Her voice serves a bit different purpose for me, especially during an awkward leg in my journey. She is known for her candor, and her message to me right now is this: "If ambiguity is what you are feeling, then that is the season you are in. You are right where you are supposed to be." As you can imagine, this is NOT what I want to hear. I want a more concrete answer that moves me into more comfortable terrain, but what I love about her is that she says what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. I am grateful for her message, and I think I am finally figuring out what it means and why I am in this strange season.
Embrace the Season, Welcome the Lessons
This last year or two has proven to be a season of hard lessons both personally and professionally, but the worst part of it has been feeling like I don't know what I have to say about anything. Hard to imagine that me, Amy Lenord, might feel like I don't know what I think about things, but it is true. Blogging has been hard, chatting has been hard and the idea of presenting even harder. If and when I have said something "smart" it wasn't because I am so knowledgeable, it was actually because I was figuring things out in that very moment. The weirdest thing of all is that while I have made tremendous progress on my proficiency journey in a very short amount of time, you would think I would be more sure, more confident about what I know and am comfortable sharing with others. Right now, I am just not.
Maybe it's time for a little context. I made a bargain with myself three years ago. That bargain was crafted after a day crying in the bed after remarkable failure. At that moment I realized that while I believed in proficiency based teaching, I knew nothing about being a practitioner. Simply put, I didn't know how to do it. That sad, pathetic day I knew I was going to have to put all of my former practice on the shelf to embrace something entirely new, and I would have to give myself completely over if there was any hope of figuring proficiency based teaching out. The season I was in at that time was a season of pruning and purging. I was trying to operate as a proficiency based teacher with at least one foot firmly placed in traditional methodology. This is not to mention that I didn't understand any of the research, theory or strategies linked to language acquisition which is why the failure was so hard. I was forcing my will on a curriculum built on developing language proficiency and letting my ego drive all the instructional decisions I was making as I planned my lessons. The result of that mess was that my students weren't making any ground and I was perpetually frustrated. I basically had to burn my own ship to embrace new ways in a new land. It was a painful season, but absolutely necessary.
Fast forward three years. I have learned so much, but while I know have learned and grown so much, it has been hard to verbalize what I have been learning or what I now know. So, as you can imagine trying to put things into words to blog or present has been challenging. This all brings me back to Alyssa's advice to embrace the season. Before, I had to give myself permission to fail. This time I have given myself permission to ponder.
Ponder + Process + Production = Power
One important lesson I have learned is how helpful it is to be a believer and how that perspective has helped me understand my professional journey. The professional messages the "voices" have been sending have mirrored the personal messages I have heard in my spiritual life. What I know today that I didn't know months, weeks or even a few days ago is that my brain has been processing the learning I have been doing since that tearful day in the bed. It is one thing to adopt new practices, but it is entirely different to understand them deeply enough to explain to someone else. THIS is what my season of quiet pondering has been about. I had to make sense of what I was learning. To take it a step further, here is a look at that processing:
- Put former beliefs and practices on the shelf. Abandon them for now.
- Embrace new practices and just trust them.
- Observe how they work to help learners grow proficiency.
- Process why they work both as a teacher and as a language learner.
- Practice reusing those methods in different contexts to grow some confidence.
- Begin to create activities and lessons using those strategies and principles to test your understanding of them.
- Re-evaluate former beliefs and practices to prune away the things that don't fit.
- Refine your practices to build instructional accuracy.
The most powerful part of all of my learning is this: my learning mirrors the same learning path language students are on as they move from novices up the proficiency scale. That list is not contrived either. Again, sitting here to write this post was a deliberate exercise to process how Alyssa's message to me connected to what I have learned after attending TELL Collab and what I was struggling to say as I prepared a recent workshop I gave in San Antonio. The timing of both events was crucial because both made me focus on questions other teachers have about proficiency based teaching and come up with answers for those questions. Those events for me were my own performance assessments. Both made me respond to questions I wasn't sure I had the answers to.
A Challenge to You
Basically, this has all been a huge lesson about learning how to learn as a professional. What I know now that I didn't before is that in order to grow, it is not enough to just try something new. It is not enough to read new information or attend a PD event. We have to purposefully process what speaks to us. We have to do something with what we learned to test it out. We have to verbalize it ourselves to own the learning and understand why it is true or valuable. Then, we have to stack it up to our prior practice and/or beliefs to see what we need to refine. This means that our learning must be just as active as our students' learning if we hope to grow. We have to employ our learning, and then we have to seek out new ground to cover. If we don't the learning falls like seed on dry ground. It won't take root, it will dry up and be blown away. The season is lost.
All this being said, my challenge to you is this: challenge yourself no matter where you are in your journey or what season you are in to answer questions as much as you ask them. This means that you must connect to other educators to have more conversations. Prioritize your own processing time so that you can figure out what you think about some things and what you know about others. Allow yourself time to ponder, but in order to grow your confidence in your own knowledge base, open your mouth (or a new blog post) and explain to yourself (if no one else) what you know. It is scary, but only for a moment.
Most importantly, embrace the season you are in. Give yourself over to it and let the season do what it is suppose to do. It may mean that you have to give up a bit of control, but don't get me started on control. I will save that topic for another blog post.