Sunshine and Sunflowers

February 7, 2019

Dear Families,

I mentioned last week in my blog post that I would begin a 5 part series. I shared that this week my entry would be titled “Charlie Brown’s Teacher.” While I continue to share my 5 part series, my approach changes drastically. Miraculously, I find strength despite my heartache, or maybe because of it.

Unthinkable grief rocked my world last week. My baby sister, Lisa, passed away. Saysa’s light shined brightly in our lives for 46 beautiful years. She assumed many roles in her life. Daughter. Sister. Mother. Aunt.

Teacher.

Lisa poured her heart and soul into the lives of her students. She approached her craft with intentionality. She focused on each child as an individual learner; yet, within her classroom, she built a community that first and foremost embraced kindness and compassion. Her approach to learning emphasized the big picture.

In our early days as educators, Lisa and I taught at the same school. We approached teaching in a manner that was as far as the East is to the West. Her big-picture approach baffled me. I wondered how in the world she would ever accomplish any learning. I mean seriously. How can you have a successful day without an agenda? Or posted objectives?

We often bantered back and forth. Each of us defending our approach to learning as the most effective for students. Clearly, rules, directions, and all things structure provided the best learning environment. I promised her several times that if her students arrived in my classroom unprepared because of her big-picture approach to everything, I would send them back.

She countered quickly with confidence. She assured me she would happily accept them. After all, someone had to save them from my neurotic, OCD tendencies. We enjoyed the privilege of teaching together for 4 years. As we developed our craft together, we realized something. Both approaches worked.

Imagine.

Often during my planning period, I made my way down to her classroom to observe her mysterious ways. As I watched, I marveled at her skill. What initially appeared to be chaos to me became a beautiful picture of learning. I began to see patterns. Structure emerged from the perceived chaos. I soon realized that she reached students with personalities that often gave me a challenge.

As I observed her class, I also noticed “my people.” I watched some of them, at times, wander aimlessly searching. Searching for what, I did not know. I noticed heightened anxiety within others of them. They seemed bossy, agitated, stressed. I knew why.

When she would visit my classroom, she often watched in amazement. And not the kind of amazement that inspired awe and wonder. The…what on earth is going on in here kind of amazement. The structure and attention to detail lost on her.

As we collaborated, we realized something. Our students needed to be offered unique approaches to learning. I realize that this seems obvious. Yet in the early 90s, group work learning was revolutionizing the classroom. We worked together to find ways to reach students that didn’t fall into our “make and mold.” She taught me how to effectively utilize centers, even in a middle school classroom. I learned to embrace effective learning noise.

I taught her how to approach centers with a bit more structure for “my kind of people.” When I moved to Colorado, I realized immediately the impact our work together had on my teaching. I realized that without our time together, I likely would have missed reaching many of my “big picture” students.

I remember a phone conversation with Lisa before she moved to Colorado. She called to ask me for advice about one of her students. His need for structure surpassed anything she had experienced. We worked to develop a plan to help him succeed. I will never forget something Lisa said. “It’s a good thing we have each other, sissy. What would our students do if we only taught them the ways that made sense to us?”

All these years later, while reading the tributes to her life, I realized something. She was right. As long as I am privileged enough to remain in education, I will be more diligent to ensure that learning approaches all students in a manner that leads to further growth and development.

Stay tuned next week as I discuss the “why” of education and provide the data to support it.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley