As a teacher of 13 years, teaching to standards and test scores was never enough for me. It felt like I was selling myself and students short of our collective learning experience if what I was teaching could merely be checked off and boiled down to a percentage. The longer I taught the more I thought about what I truly wanted for myself and students. Why does my class matter? Why does school matter? These were the questions I continuously came back to when I began to think about what was best for my students.
Half of my career focused on teaching reading and writing, and I thought about what drew me to the subject area in the first place. I have always been a voracious reader, and I have always been curious about the world. Books, travel, and conversation have deeply informed who I am and what I believe, and I wanted my students to forge their own understanding of the world by being exposed to the same. We may not be able to travel the world together, but we certainly could use literature and conversation as a place to start.
While teaching 6th grade for the last five years, I decided to connect my why with the reason I am personally drawn to reading and knowledge. I shared my why ad nauseum with my students, and by year end, I think they understood.
My why for my class:
To build empathy and expand our worldview through reading, writing, and discussion.
To design an authentic reading and writing environment that mirrors the real world and allows us to design for others and have a positive social impact.
To simply build a love for reading that will last a lifetime.
My why had nothing to do with standards or test scores; it was solely connected to the heart. We read books that built a capacity for empathy and exposed us to a world of cultures beyond our classroom walls. I observed students invested in reading, asking deep questions, and thinking about how they can impact the world.
I don't remember the exact numbers, but a class of 65 students read over 1,400 novels last year. Every child read over 10 books during the school year and some read upwards of 60. That's an average of around 20 books per child. With no test prep and a lot of reading, writing, and discussion, our standardized test scores were top notch. More importantly, connecting with my why and creating a meaningful, relevant learning environment with my students, not only drove results, but I was gifted the opportunity to read, converse, and learn every day alongside of thoughtful eleven and twelve year olds. I experienced great joy watching my students take charge of their learning. To me, this is what school is about.
While I already miss my daily interactions with students and talking about novels every day, the work I was doing with teachers over the years began to take off, and I could no longer ignore the energy and excitement surrounding DesignEd, which innovates culture + curriculum in K - 12 schools. As the founder, I ultimately want to revitalize the teaching profession and bring value and respect to an often demoralized profession. We lose too many teachers because we do not create work environments that elevate educators to be their very best. Instead we often let constraints, and ultimately fear of bucking status quo, hold us back from maximizing our talent and ability to create amazing learning experiences for students. Unfortunately, this leads teachers to either become complacent and compliant OR they leave. Needless to say, those options are not great. For anyone. Rather when we equip and empower teachers, students benefit.
At DesignEd, we use design thinking to prototype innovations for culture + curriculum in schools. If you know anything about design thinking, it is no surprise that I gravitated towards the process, as empathy is a cornerstone of the framework, and it connected my why for teaching with my why for DesignEd.
At the core, this is why I am building DesignEd:
To instill a creative confidence in teachers to be lead designers of the learning experience and make school a place where teachers love to work and students love to learn.
If school is truly about learning, then it should be the most exciting place on earth. School should not be something we have to check off before we start living our life. The formative years of a K-12 education should not evoke misery, rather it should awaken curiosity, creativity, optimism, and action to contribute to our world and make it a better place. This applies to all of us -- school leaders, teachers, and students.
If we are living from our place of why, not only will results follow, but we connect with something more meaningful that’s beyond ourselves. It’s a magic moment. It’s difficult to define; it’s difficult measure. However those moments are why I founded DesignEd and why I am charged every time a teacher recognizes their potential after a workshop and goes back to their classroom to do deep, meaningful work with their students.
As you look at your life, what is your why? How are you living this out? I hope connecting to and living out your why will allow you to live in those magic moments more often.