Our Strongest Parts

orange leaf that has changed color from green with a heart shape missing from it's center
For many educators, it’s about the time of year when the adrenaline of the school-start may begin to wane, the fatigue of many early mornings/late nights is no longer remedied with six cups of coffee, and the compassion poured into every single learner each day has left the drain plug pulled and the tank nearly depleted. 

By this time, you’ve solved many “puzzles,” endeavored WITH kids through all kinds of issues not related to the curriculum, maneuvered strategically to improve access to materials and instruction, skipped lunches, stayed late with struggling learners, and work-dreamt repeatedly about the one or two you just cannot seem to reach YET! 

You’ve probably also noticed that this is the time of year in Indiana when the summer foliage of teeming green has started to convert to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges! Have you wondered why this happens? In parts of the country, like Indiana, where trees are to withstand rigorous and grueling freezing temperatures over winter, they cleverly reduce themselves to their strongest parts!  

The leaves of a deciduous or broadleaf tree contain thin fluids that are susceptible to freezing, making them relatively delicate, weak, and unprotected by the coating of wax that evergreen trees exhibit. These shrewd trees conserve energy, thus preserving themselves, by shedding their leaves! This begins to occur when their chemical light receptors start to detect the change in daylight hours, which can happen with as little as a 30 minute reduction in daily sunshine!

As downcast as the long winters here can tend to be at times, I do find a genuine appeal in how and why our trees transform themselves in order to focus on their strongest parts! Trees slowly let go of their leaves through the magnificent display of Fall color that we are beginning to see, in order to direct their energy to their trunks, stems, branches, and bark to weather the cold winter! Brilliant! 

I wonder if we might take a lesson from our Indiana trees? I wonder about my own “toughest parts” and which parts of myself I might be able to temporarily let go of in order to conserve the energy that is available and focus on my foundational structures. What parts of yourself are your strongest and most resilient? What might you be able to let go of, in order to grow those strongest parts of yourself? What about your students…what could be set aside temporarily, in order to focus time, energy, and resources on the strengths of each student? 

As educators, we tend to also be perfectionists and we strive to address so many things with our students all at once, that we sometimes create our own greatest barriers. Perhaps, letting some "leaves" fall off that continually distract from the more important tasks at hand could lead to more of the outcomes we seek. What if we let go of a student’s phonetic decoding skills temporarily in order to feed his intense interest in science or history and we let the student drop his phonics “leaves” temporarily in order to focus on his strength of reading with his ears? What if we permitted a student to drop her handwriting “leaves” and begin to use text to speech or a keyboard, instead of continuously losing points on writing assignments? When we introduce a new piece of assistive technology or a new format of specialized educational materials; what if we allowed the student to temporarily drop the “leaves” of the content itself, while familiarization occurred with the tool? Focusing on learning the tool at the same time as learning the content is often just too much! 

Sometimes, it’s simply too much! There’s just too much that requires ours and our students’ finite energy and in order to continue to thrive (or begin to thrive) we have to let go of some “leaves” and focus our resources on strengths and we have to facilitate a means for our students to do the same! What are your “leaves” that you can drop temporarily? What are the things in your classroom, your school building, your district, that might add beauty, but could be dropped for a little while in the interest of refocusing your resources? 

Recently, the PATINS staff made a little time to focus on our creativity through some mindful breathing, stretching, and purposeful discussion around the concept of “sacred rituals” in our daily lives. I dropped the leaf of feeling like I never have a spare 5 minutes in the mornings, regardless of what time I got up. I decided I’d spend 3-5 minutes every morning, making coffee by hand…from grinding the beans, to heating water, and pouring it slowly in a four-step process over the delicious and aromatic ground up beans. That “leaf” of feeling like I needed to get to my emails 5 minutes earlier each morning was a seemingly small one to drop, but it allowed me five minutes to focus on deliberately being slow, intentional, aware, and creative. It was a small but important "leaf" to let go of.  

Perhaps, when you identify a “leaf” of your own to let go of, you can feed more energy into finding some colleagues who share your passions, frustrations, and struggles… your personal learning network! While there are so many ways to go about this, I want to make sure you’re aware of two great ones!

Tuesday evenings, at 8:30pm EST, PATINS hosts a Twitter chat where we post questions and have a discussion around them for a half-hour! In fact, last week’s chat was all about “Preventing Teacher Burnout!” Join us this next Tuesday evening, we’d love to have you. Simply search Twitter for the hashtag, #PatinsIcam! You can also reach out to any of us and we’d love to help you get set up to participate! 

I also want to make sure you’re aware of the rapidly approaching PATINS Access to Education 2018 State Conference! This is a GREAT opportunity to connect with others! We have over 40 concurrent sessions and two great keynotes! The full schedule is posted and registration is open! Drop a few “leaves” and allow yourself the time and opportunity to focus your energy into growth with us on November 28 and 29!
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Thursday, 15 November 2018

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