Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Value Challenge

I strongly believe that the only way your students can imbibe a value is if you demonstrate it with utmost consistency in the classroom. I have focused a great deal on teamwork, hardwork, honesty and self control and have been able to demonstrate these virtues everyday. In addition, I have started  implicitly teaching my kids about excellence, empathy and gratitude.

The last two weeks have been unimaginably stressful. It has been a true strength of my mental and emotional stamina. My focus has simply been to ensure continuity of learning despite everything that has changed inside the classroom and in our lives. In this time, I have often been slacking on some of the values of the class - especially excellence and self control.

 I have realized how efficiently classroom systems and procedures helped me manage my energy this far. Many of them have gotten undone with changes in class and team structure. The burden of many small decisions has fallen back upon me, which takes up more mind space than I imagined. With all this on my mind, conscious teacher modelling has become hard.

Excellence is incredibly hard to maintain in an environment that is unpredictable. While I have never gone to class without a plan, some of my recent plans have been disappointing by my standards especially in the new content areas I have taken over. I have seen myself let go of some points on my performance goals. I convince myself by saying that this is a contingency situation and I need to realign my goals to meet the changed needs of class - both expected and unexpected. Internally, I am not okay with mediocrity. At the same time, I am aware I have limits - physical more than anything else.

Showing self control is difficult in an environment where you have temporary untested systems in place, you have students who are in changed settings and your own energy reservoirs are on emergency backup. I have raised my voice with students, including some highly invested ones, at least once every day of this week compared to probably once or twice in the rest of the semester. I even shouted on some of my friends during conversations (which have barely happened), just because I have been on the edge.  While I know the change in my temperament is temporary, I need a system restore to go back to state of high equanimity and awareness.

At the same time, I have compensated for the lack of some values with some others. I have been forced to show extremely high levels of team work and hard work to make the grade function.

I have collaborated, supported and been supported by many people (including team members and students) often this month stepping out of my comfort zone. I have shown high levels of empathy. I have purposefully worked on differentiated management approaches to different individuals. I have been open to 'sharing and caring' as well as 'seeking to understand'.  I have shown leadership in planning and I am glad my team has played an active role in implementing or executing my multiple fall back plans.

I have also worked non-stop for almost three weeks - with just one half day break - to ensure minimal damage is done to the long term plans for my kids. I have taken initiative and additional responsibility to make sure I provide the basic inputs that are needed to keep classes on track towards their big goals.

Some of my more intuitive students and some of my closest friends have sensed my recent vulnerability. They have been incredibly supportive in giving me that time and space to recover and re-energize every day for many weeks now. I am proud of having them in my life.

I don't believe in the concept of work-life balance. I think work and life need to be integrated and have a free flow. If you can master the art of doing that, you can feed the positives from one into the gaps in the other to balance the stresses. At the same time, it allows both your professional and personal circle to be able to support you strongly when you are in dire need. Like the say, if your work turns you on, you don't need to ever switch off  in your life.

Most of all, I love how much this month has taught me. After I recover from the physical tiredness, I know I will be much stronger. I have been reading these lines by Tennyson and Tolkien for their therauptic value and appropriateness to the situation:

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

"It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
- Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses

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