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Is it Impossible?

Posted by on in Teaching with Rigor
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Last night I started catching up on some time with some friends of mine - namely the doctors on Grey's Anatomy.  I don't watch it to be intellectually challenged or to be inspired or to do anything but to escape for a bit - but one episode really made me reflect on my teaching.  Imagine that?

In the episode a doctor (Dr. Amelia Shepherd) is planning a groundbreaking surgery on another character (Dr. Herman) to remove a massive brain tumor that no one but her believes is possible to remove.  And throughout the episode she is delivering a is delivering a lecture series about the upcoming procedure.

And the passion, the eloquence, the connection she had to her topic - for that hour - made me want to learn about neurosurgery.  Made me believe I could!  Made me interested in something I never had thought about being interested in or thought I could be interested in.  Made the impossible sound possible - simply because she believed it so.  

And I know it's TV, but I thought "Wow!" "If for even 10 minutes a day I could teach like that, what couldn't I do with my kids."

There is so much that we have to teach our kids that perhaps we think just is not age-appropriate, that it's too rigorous, too complicated, too hard.  But if we approach it with that attitude we doom our lesson before we even begin.  We're not giving them the chance to surpriseus.  And nothing is more fun in teaching than to be surprised by what your kids can do!

And yes, perhaps there are times when the standard is too rigorous for my on-grade students, perhaps there is a group that even struggles with even below grade level skills - am I setting them up?  And it is incredibly frustrating and upsetting when you know that you are being held accountable for teaching something that you just don't feel your students are ready for.  

But if I go into it with that negative mindset, then my lesson is doomed before it begins.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It's up to me to see if I can at least try to give a Dr. Amelia Shepherd lesson and at least give them a chance.  

Every day as teacher we walk a fine line of pushing kids to their limits, without causing so much frustration that they shut down.  It is truly at the core of the art of teaching.  And for each class, each child, this line is at a different place - but I need to let them define where that line is, not me.

We talk so much about teaching students growth mindset, and persistence, and my personal favorite eduspeak buzzword...grit.  But how many times have you heard a teacher say "My kids can't do that."  How many times have you thought that?  I know I have.  I've allowed myself to get overwhelmed by the standards, I've allowed myself to think "this is too hard."  

 I'm not going to expect the impossible, but I am going to expect that sometimes what we think is impossible turns out to be possible after all!    

And even if the kids don't get it, don't I owe it to them to at least make them feel like they could get it someday- with time - just like Dr. Shepherd made me crazily feel like I could get nerosurgery? 

Before she started on her surgery she struck a superhero pose, stating that she had read that it gives you confidence.  (A fact I confirmed from a TED blog). 

So - Next time I set out to teach improper fractions to 8 year olds we are all going to strike a super hero pose, believe we can do it, get REALLY creative, and see if they surprise me.'



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I have the joy of hanging out with kids every day. I've been teaching since 1997, and have taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and a few years in 8th. I started out my career in Missouri where I earned my Education Bachelor's and my Master's, but returned to my hometown and have taught the majority of my career there. I did take a couple of years off while my kids were babies - and I can't believe they are both in middle school now (and I count them as one of the most effective members of my Personal Learning Network!). My path to education was a winding road - I actually graduated with a degree in Geoenvironmental Studies before moving to Missouri and becoming a teacher.

In addition to teaching my 8 year olds - I love being a mentor teaching to both pre-service student teachers in my classroom and as a grade level Master Teacher for district new hires. I'm an avid STEM advocate and am invigorated by some of the ways education is moving - with integrated PBL and more authentic learning. It's how I love to teach! I am also working on crossing the line from just being ed tech aware, to being a full fledged ed tech geek. I began blogging after going to an EdCamp as a way to hold myself accountable for my next stage in evolving as a teacher.

At home, my family enjoys camping. My daughter is avid equestrian and my son a dedicated Boy Scouter. This summer we traveled to Colorado and South Dakota in a Jeep pulling a pop-up. It was an adventure, and we can't wait for the next one!
  • Gillian Judson @perfinker
    Gillian Judson @perfinker Friday, 14 October 2016

    HI Kelli,

    Just wanted to share that I fully endorse that good old "downtime tv"! I also fully share your holding of high expectations for students. We owe them that. As long as we support them along the way (through how we teach, through how we assess, through how we celebrate what they do well) then we should push them to do great things.

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