Being a Learner


In the midst of a catastrophic budget and management crisis in Philadelphia schools, I am spending the last weeks of my summer alternately mourning the state of public schools in my city, advocating for an equitable funding system, and feeling excitement about the school year ahead.

As I enter my thirteenth year of teaching I am becoming more aware of what sustains me and what I need to do in order to enter each school year fresh and passionate. For me summer is time to plan and reflect. I have come to realize that, for me, these processes are about being a learner and finding inspiration. If I am not learning, discovering, and creating, I am not able to discover and access what is necessary for me to create meaningful experiences for my students. My summer preparations tend to follow predictable patterns:

Reading: I use summer to consume texts. I read a wide range to flood my mind with ideas, insights, and beauty. Often one book or article will lead to another. This summer, among many other things, I read a lot of international fiction to help me brainstorm for my Globalization class. Half of a Yellow Sun was one of the books that is still occupying my mind and helping me to think about having students “enter” in the heads of others as part of our class.

Researching: I love the fact that designing curriculum gives me a reason and a motivation to do in-depth research. During the summer I can be found at events and performances, in libraries, bookstores, and with my laptop as I compile articles, find excerpts from books for my students, or make connections that will help to frame units in engaging ways. I find it helpful to use social bookmarking to help organize the vast amount of resources that I compile.

Consulting With Experts: My students are capable of grappling with real world issues and controversies. Learning has meaning for all of us when we are doing work that matters in the world. For these reasons I try to learn from those who are specialists and bring scholarship and insights to my students. Some of my consulting with experts happens in person as I attend events or connect with people I know. Other connections happen when I follow experts on Twitter, find interviews online, or add RSS feeds to my reader.

Consulting With Friends and Colleagues: I am fortunate to be part of a wonderful community of smart, thoughtful, and creative people. I love being able to share ideas and get feedback or insights from those around me. My friends continually lead me to so many interesting ideas and connections. It is inspiring to be around so much interesting work and thought.

Every school year is an arc of community building, learning, and growth. The work is powerful, exciting, draining, and consuming. I cannot imagine doing this work without having ways to renew myself intellectually, spiritually, and creatively.

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