Last week, I saw my school through new eyes.
We had a visit of 11 first-year teachers from other high schools, part of a new teacher support initiative in the Bronx. My school was one of 15 schools chosen for the visit with a focus on teaching methods for English Language Learners, as the majority of our students are newcomer immigrants who are learning English.
I told my leadership consultants, Ariel and Shya Kane, about the visit. “First-year teachers? They’re going to compare themselves if they feel insecure,” said Ariel. “Set them up to not compare, and look at your school with a beginner’s mind so they can learn.”
The Kanes helped me to craft a speech which I delivered to the new teachers when they arrived. It went like this: “I’m going to assume that you’re a great teacher and that your school has practices that work really well for your students. Today isn’t about changing what you do or comparing your school to our school. It’s about looking at what you see today as if it’s new, with a beginner’s mind so you can learn. Don’t compare your school and start thinking, “My school does this better,” or “My school should be doing things differently.” Thinking will get you away from where you are and you’ll miss out on what’s right in front of you—it could be a great insight or the key to a problem you’re trying to solve. Today, listen to the teachers, listen to the kids, interact with them. And have fun.”
As I walked around with the new teachers, I saw my own classrooms newly. I saw students from different cultures being kind to one another, teaching one another in science, crafting sentences in math, debating an answer in Global History. I saw a class of students who have missed two or more years of schooling writing complete sentences—something they weren’t able to do in September. I saw how brilliant my students and teachers are.
I also saw how brilliant the visiting teachers were. They walked right up to the students and asked them questions, which we had suggested they do: “Don’t get buried in taking notes,” my own teachers had told them. “Walk up to the kids, ask questions, feel free to interact.”
The students loved the interaction. “Our class is really bonded,” one girl said to me proudly, explaining to me why her class was a good one to visit. A 9th-grade boy in a math class loved talking to one of the visiting teachers. “I want that Mister to see me in Social Studies class,” he told us. “I like math but I’m better at Social Studies.”
Before this visit, I had gotten focused on “problems” and my “to do” list—and forgotten how much our school has accomplished and could share with others. The Bronx districts organizing this visit created a sense of possibility for our newest teachers, and also gave schools the gift of being seen.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman