First Day Jitters: My First Day of The First Day of My First NFI

Keep Calm and Pretend This is on the Lesson PlanYesterday, when I woke up, the first thing I did was check Facebook. Yes, that is what I do most work mornings (instead of doing my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way. That’s probably why my novel remains unwritten– my creepy lurking into other people’s lives rather than creating them for my characters. Anyhoo . . .)

My many friends were posting pictures of their kids on their first day of school.

I love this day, every year– it always makes me realize, anew, what an enormous enterprise this whole education thing is. Buses. Backpacks. New shoes and shiny scrubbed faces, hair slicked back and neat.

And many so many parent perspectives, captured in the photo captions. One mother, a colleague of mine, described her enormous love for her child: she managed to wait, she wrote, until she left the classroom to cry.

One dad’s gentle pride was implicit in a picture he posted of his daughter climbing on to her bus.

Some captions were joyous– others tearful– as they noted how big their pre-schooler/kindergartener/first grader was getting.

Also interesting were the notes about their child’s/children’s excitement, or nerves, or anticipation– so clearly evident in the rather stiff posing of growing bodies and their often wry expressions.

And of course, my friends who are teachers were posting too– all those weeks of getting classrooms and curriculum ready . . . the same nerves, and excitement . . . all the potential of early September.

This time of year, as the weather starts to slightly chill (love those warm sunny fall days in the Pacific Northwest with just a hint of bite to them) and the transition from summer to fall begins, has always felt like the New Year to me (more so than January when we westerners tend to celebrate the closing of the old and the welcoming of the new).

This feels like the natural time to begin turning inward (where have I been?) while also looking forward (where am I going?), all while staying firmly grounded in the deliciously new of the now.

In my new position, as I meditate on the bigger picture of education in the US, I am thinking about all of that love– that hope– that joy– that excitement– that passion– that I witnessed on Facebook.

Real people. Faces. As Sir Ken Robinson said in this Ted Talk (forgive my over generalized paraphrase) education should be about cultivating our rich and vast human resources.

We talk so often about what is wrong with education– yet I do not think that it an inspiring or correct place to begin the conversation.

We also focus, in the national discourse, as Parker Palmer writes, on externals– curriculum. Standards. Rubrics. Textbooks. Teacher Evaluations. Not that these conversations are not important– not that I don’t love the process of creating artifacts of learning that make the implicit explicit.

But real innovation, reform, change– that which is sustainable and renewable– starts from recognizing what is real and true and good that we can build from.

And what we want will always come from within. Inside.

The Education Revolution will arrive when we remember love is truly the only driver. Hope. Joy. Passion.

And the Education Revolution will be birthed from specifics– from faces you know. The people you grew up with and went to high school/college/grad school with. The people you work with and play with (and stalk on FB while you are trying to wake up).

Humans, in other words.

And it will take all of us– parents, students, teachers.

My own first day is today– and it feels, emotionally, like the many, many first days of class I planned and prepped for in my decade of teaching college-level English and Literature course . . . but kind of on Steroids.

This is an absolutely huge transition for me personally and professionally– to go from facilitating learning experiences for undergrads to facilitating learning experiences for our talented, committed, hardworking faculty.

My boss and I have prepped, prepped, and prepped– painstakingly wordsmithing on our PowerPoints and Prezis and handouts to the point where we both got giddy. Always, every time we met, an hour would stretch to two– a two hour meeting to three . . . there was always one more thing we had not considered– a detail, an idea, a possibility, a contingency.

And then, last night, I stayed at work until almost 9PM, re-doing the visuals for my two solo presentations and then completely scrapping my handouts and starting over.

At this point, nothing feels perfect to me. I have too much material for the time allotted (typical of my teaching) and I still feel like I am two or three (heck– whole sentences!) right words away from the perfect questions that will get people talking. I want to know and build off what they already do well . . . I want to explore, as a group, what sorts of shifts they might make to be even better.

So all those states I described earlier that I had observed on FB– excited, happy, nervous, a little shocked at the growth that happened when I was not looking, anticipation . . . I’m feeling them all.

I am parent. I am student. I am teacher.

As I am a teacher, and always have been, I know that the wisdom of the image above– “Keep Calm and Pretend It’s On the Lesson Plan” applies here.

Being a good facilitator means remembering that I am not alone in the room, that I am definitely not the “Sage on the Stage,” and that it’s not really about my external products or my plan (no matter how hard I have worked on them!)

It’s about tapping into the energies of the other faculty in the room with me, and because they are teachers, because they have been students, because probably many of them are parents, and because we are all human(!), they most likely feel much like I do.

And the mistakes, of course, are where the magic happens.

Here’s to a wonderful New Faculty Institute! I look forward to seeing what emerges.

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