If you were to draw your inner teacher, what would he/she look like? How does he/she feel? Excited? Nervous? Overwhelmed? In reading the work of Martha Beck–which encourages us to pay close attention to our emotions because they are our inner compass–we’ve discovered that our inner teacher’s emotions can serve as our teaching compass. After teaching, thinking, feeling, writing, reflecting–lather, rinse, repeat–we’ve learned to trust our inner teacher, and to understand that, when she is lethargic or angry we need to adjust something in our practice or our thinking, or even both. As we have explored the connection between our energy, our effectiveness, and our teaching, we have arrived at a four big principles that help our teaching compass stay on true north. We call these four guiding tenets “The Four Intentions” and, if we are mindful of them, our inner teacher feels like this:
We use these intentions to plan lessons, purposefully considering each tenet as we design instruction. We also use them to reflect on lessons we teach. These intentions have become the framework for all our thinking about instruction, even about education in general. Here is an explanation for each intention, and questions you can ask yourself to reflect on how well a particular lesson or some other work addresses “The Four Intentions.”
Intention 1: Alignment (with our inner teacher)
In these days of aligning curricula, instruction, and language with performance standards, we offer, instead, as our primary teaching intention alignment with our highest purpose for teaching–that is, a focus on lifelong learning. This includes a reconnection with our original visions for our teaching selves and a reawakening of our loftiest visions for students as learners. Staying true to the alignment intention means keeping our sights set on our long-term outcomes and the ways in which our instructional decisions can affect who children will grow up to become. The alignment intention is all about recognizing and action on our agency as teachers, and using this agency to empower students. To evaluate your work against the alignment intention, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my inner teacher, my highest teaching self, feel safe (even happy) with this instructional choice? How do I know?
- How does this work/decision/lesson show students their power as learners?
- Am I excited about this work/lesson? Why?
Intention 2: Balance
We intend to balance the aforementioned alignment to our inner teacher with our immediate instructional goals, whether state directives around the Common Core State Standards or district expectations that we must use certain curricula. We must attend to accountability demands intentionally, but we want to do so without losing sight of our best selves as educators or of who we want students to grow to become. To evaluate your work against the balance intention, ask yourself the following question:
- How well does this work/lesson help students meet the expectations others place on them? How do I know?
- How does this lesson/work accentuate the aspects of accountability and standardization that are most closely connected to what my inner teacher holds most important?
- How does this lesson/work marry the goals of my inner teacher, the immediate considerations of accountability, and checks against my own biases?
Intention 3: Sustainability
Classroom time restraints demand that we teach lessons that serve purposes beyond the immediate work. Sustainable lessons are those that teach processes, strategies, or routines that support learning in other contexts. We acknowledge that, ultimately, practices that support reading wellness must be self-sustaining, even habituated. Sustainable lessons/work are not an end in themselves, but rather pathways for establishing new ways of being, knowing, and doing that can serve students within our classroom communities, and even for a lifetime. To evaluate lessons/work against the sustainability intention, consider the following questions:
- How does the core of this lesson/work make future learning/work easier, better, and deeper?
- How does this lesson/work make it easier for us, as a classroom community, to talk about our work?
- How will habituating what they are practicing in this lesson make students more “well” as learners?
Intention 4: Joy
Most importantly, we intend toward joyful instruction and joyful learning in classrooms all the time! We actively search for sources of joy, and work to extend and perpetuate them. We are not referring to “fun” lessons or “cute” activities, although joyful learning is usually fun and may well lead to inspired (and even inspiring) and innovative student work. Joy in this context refers to the moments you and your students are engaged in work that matters to you, that holds the potential for propelling lifelong learning habits, and that results in growth both toward accountability standards and toward and agentive life of learning. To evaluate lessons against the joy intention, consider the following questions:
- What makes this lesson/work memorable?
- How does this lesson/work fill my students and/or me with energy, awe, and inspiration?
- How does this lesson/work perpetuate a love of learning?
To learn more about the Four Intentions, you can find a thorough explanation, as well as six lessons written with these intentions, in Reading Wellness. Or, you can follow reading teacher bloggers who are practicing these intentions regularly and writing about it, such as Steve Peterson, Julianne Harmatz, Mary Lee Hahn and Franki Sibberson.
How do you stay in touch with your inner teacher?