Dear Teachers, Brave the Wilderness

 

Dr. Emad A. S. Abu-Ayyash

Faculty of Education

 

Do not think that you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” – Oprah.

 

The idea of this article came from Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”, a book about the quest for true belonging.

 

In her book, BRAVING becomes an acronym for seven strategies that should assist people develop a wild heart. These strategies are embedded within seven notions: 1) Boundaries, 2) Reliability, 3) Accountability, 4) Vault, 5) Integrity, 6) Nonjudgment, and 7) Generosity. Taking the initials of the seven words, you get ‘BRAVING”.  When I was reading the book, I was thinking ‘teachers’, and I was contemplating how embracing these seven traits would help teachers improve their teaching practice and their overall teaching experience. And I came to the conclusion that BRAVING the wilderness is something that merits consideration by teachers on a number of counts. Here are my thoughts.

 

Boundaries: As a teacher, you need to respect the boundaries of others. Of equal importance, though, is that you set your own boundaries that others have to respect. My advice: learn to say ‘no’ when you don’t want to do something, which is, believe me, a hard thing to do. Why is it hard? Because it might hurt the feelings of a colleague who you admire, or bring you the resentment of some line manager. Still, ‘no’ is a necessary option that you might be willing to consider for a number of reasons. ‘No’ can save your time so that you can use it in doing the things that you really want/have to do. ‘No’ can save your energy. ‘No’ can keep you healthy. ‘No’ can lead others to pay more respect to your boundaries.

 

Reliability: Keep your word. If you promise to give one of your students 3 extra grades for completing a task successfully, make sure that you fulfil that promise. Do not overpromise; you should always be mindful of your capabilities and your limitations.

 

Accountability: Just like you, dear teacher, I’d rather be perfect. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen. All the way through your career, you will make mistakes. Good news is: You own your mistakes; so, apologise, and make amends. If your mistakes were caught up by your students during a class, make it a moment of celebration, instead of shying off or insisting on it. Laugh about your mistakes. Be accountable, get respected.

 

Vault: Keep the secrets; don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. If you break the trust of a colleague once, it is unlikely that they will trust you ever again. A simple ‘It was a mistake’ will not probably resolve the issue. When a secret is out, trust goes with it. Probably, the most appropriate quote that comes to mind here is: “‘It was a mistake,’ you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt the mistake was mine, for trusting you” (David Levithan). In a school setting, trust probably means way more than it does in other contexts. If the trust chain between a teacher and a student breaks down, undesirable behaviours, the least of which is disruption during your class will be the result.

 

Integrity: This one is absolutely challenging. Choose courage over comfort; choose what is right over what is fun or easy. This particular element applies to everything you do. Involving young children in games is fun and is anticipated to get them ‘busied’ and happy; this is easy. However, selecting the right game that serves the learning objective and that dovetails with the cognitive development of these young learners is not easy, but you do it because you have integrity. Dear teacher, as you now probably see, this applies to everything you do in class: worksheets, group work, assessments, technical aids, etc. Integrity means planning. Integrity means doing the right thing.

 

Nonjudgment: Your message to your colleagues and to your students is: we can talk about how we feel without judgment. Being nonjudgmental is one of the sturdiest bridges to win the trust of your students and to build confidence in them. After all, how can you get an active, engaging class, if your students lack confidence in you?

 

Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. When you think of your colleagues’ and students’ ‘irritating’ words and behaviour, think positively. When you consider the options of whether their intentions were good or bad, go for the first one. The colleague who did not help you in a certain task could be snowed under at the time. Be generous in your thoughts and in your interpretations.

 

Dear teacher, BRAVING the wilderness is worth each and every attempt. Be brave.

 

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