The Power of &

I had the pleasure of hearing Tanny McGregor, an influential educator and author, speak to a group of teachers yesterday. She spoke about the power of AND. Specifically, the ampersand.

I was inspired as she had us consider the potential of holding two opposing thoughts at one time. Sitting with those opposing thoughts, considering them, and being able to do so without losing our ability to function feels important right now.

Tanny applied this to education. This idea that two things can be held and considered at the same time. She used the following quote by Nell Duke, “We can advocate for particular research-supported instructional strategies without denigrating other research-supported instructional strategies.” Too often, we learn about new instructional practices and then make sweeping judgements and decisions that previously used practices are all bad or all good. When in fact, our ability to make thoughtful decisions in the gray space can be deeply beneficial to student learning.

Last week, I wrote about how I’m drawn to people who are tend to be more curious than judgmental. It is no small victory to stay in a place of curiosity in our schools. You would think that schools would places that nurtured curiosity for both students and staff, after all, learning is our business. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to nurture curiosity in yourself and others when you feel harshly criticized and judged.

Personally, when I feel myself being judgmental, if I am honest about where that is coming from, it tends to occur when I feel unfairly criticized. It requires a special kind of strength to show up when times are tough and do so with a soft heart and open mind. This is why I say that the most important work is the work we do on ourselves. Everything else is secondary.

I acknowledge that it’s hard. And why it’s hard. And yet, this beautiful profession can worthwhile and meaningful and hope-giving when we do the hard work of leading ourselves first. When we do the hard work of being the change we wish to see in our schools, communities, and in our world.

As I sit back on this Saturday and reflect on what the & means to me, here are a few examples where I believe AND is particularly powerful in our work as educators.

Students & Staff

For a long time, the conversations in our schools were strictly centered on what’s best for students. Important indeed! We certainly want students at the center of the decisions we make. And…we can do so while caring about what is best for staff as well. Too often we leap over the adults who care for our students in schools. In doing so, we are missing a critical ingredient in a healthy and thriving school culture. One of the best ways to take great care of students is to take great care of staff, so they can take really good care of students. As Katie Martin has said, “Teachers create what they experience.” By modeling the way and nurturing environments that make great work possible for the adults, great things happen for kids. On the other side of every colleague you encourage and nurture are students in their class who have access to teacher who has more to give.

Small Groups & Whole Class

There has been great emphasis on the need for small group and differentiated instruction in our classrooms and for good reason. We serve students who come to us with variety levels of skills, background knowledge, needs, and interests. Implementing practical strategies meet the needs of all students is a worthwhile endeavor & yet, there is power in some whole class learning too. Whole class explicit teaching or whole class experiences aren’t innately bad. I’ve watched teachers brilliantly tell stories or engage students in an interactive lecture or lab demonstration that was captivating and needed in order to set the tone and foundation for future learning. Many of us as adult learners share mountain top experiences where we fill auditoriums and are entertained and challenged, laugh and cry, while an engaging keynote inspires us to do our best work. Many evaluation tools prioritize the science of teaching. We can be about the art & science of learning.

Work & Rest

I know many educators who work late into the evenings. I know others who come in over the weekend to continue their work. I know some who leave at their contracted time. In all of those examples, I can think of specific names of great teachers. It is possible to do great work and not be all about the work all of the time. It is possible to care deeply about your work & your rest. According to Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance, “Stress + rest = growth.” Both good stress and good rest are needed for growth. It’s not all one way or another. It’s &. This looks different for different people. Only you can know what is best for you, but I invite us to consider how both can be true as we not only pursue our best work but also our best lives as well.

In the end, our words matter. It matters how we talk to ourselves and each other. There is something about & that can be truly liberating and life-giving. When I hear, “Yes, and” in a conversation, possibilities seem infinite and energizing. When I hear, “Yeah, but” I start to get nervous and suddenly, I’m listening for disagreement. I start to internally panic about what the next move should be and how we can move forward.

There is growth in the AND. We can not be where we want to end up & be proud of the progress we are making toward our goals. We can execute our work imperfectly & make a profoundly positive impact.

This work is filled with limitless possibilities and challenges.

& so are we as educators.

& I think that’s beautiful.

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