Summer Learning Journeys

Summer Learning Journeys

As par for the course, I’ve spent a significant portion of my time learning this summer, both informally and formally.  Informally, I’ve read multiple books including Shift This by Joy Kirr, The Power of a Plant by Stephen Ritz and Suzie Boss, Launch by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani and Make it Stick by Peter Brown.  I’ve spent numerous summer hours catching up with my favorite blog writers and I’ve even been participating in my first informal, but organized, on-line learning experience, The Innovative Teaching Academy, created by A.J. Juliani.  These learning experiences have pushed my thinking, strengthened my resolve to be the best educator I can be for my students and will certainly help me improve my practice.  

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

In addition to informal learning experiences, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone this summer and take a stab at learning Spanish.  I have committed to using the DuoLingo app every day for 15-20 minutes and I am taking a graduate level Spanish for Educators class.  If my 18 year old self knew about my newfound resolve to learn Spanish, she would be shocked.  You see, like many, I took several years of Spanish in high school and college but only because someone told me that I had to.  I didn’t enjoy my time in my Spanish class.  As a teenager in East Lansing, Michigan, I didn’t see the relevancy or applicability of Spanish in my life.  I enrolled in Spanish courses because I knew it was one of the boxes that needed to be checked off in order to get into a college of my choice.  In my high school Spanish class, we memorized words and phrases but never discussed application.  We stood up in front of the class and recited short dialogues but never had an immersive classroom environment or experience.  I remember thinking, and saying, that I just wasn’t “cut out” for the languages and that languages were not my forte.  I retained very little of what I learned from four years of Spanish classes.

Language was a Barrier

Almost twenty-five years after finishing my required Spanish courses, I found myself teaching science in a school where almost 50% of my students were native Spanish speakers.  Most of these students were bilingual but many of their parents spoke very little, if any, English.  For the first time in my career, I struggled to connect with many of my student’s parents.  Language was a barrier.  I strongly believe that a student’s success in school is enhanced when there is a strong family-school relationship.  For too many of my students, this relationship was not what I hoped it would be, and knew it should be, because of the language barrier.  I decided early in the year that I needed to learn Spanish so that my students and I could build stronger bridges between school and home.  

My Learning Journey has Just Begun

I love learning Spanish!  It’s challenging but fun.  It requires concentration and effort but I find it relaxing at the same time.  It stretches my mind but it is providing me greater insight into the lives of many of my students.  I’m just two months into my Spanish learning journey and although I know that I still have much to learn, I already feel like I will be able to connect just a little bit better with the families of my students as well as my students themselves once school begins anew in August.  

I am also excited to share this learning journey with my students when we meet again in August.  I am hoping that many of them will be willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me, allowing me opportunities to practice my Spanish skills, participating in immersion opportunities during lunch where we can turn the tables and they can be my mentors and provide formative feedback to me.  I hope this will be a powerful experience for both of us.  I hope that seeing their teacher as a struggling, yet hopeful, student will encourage them to step outside of their own zones of comfort and try new things.  I hope that by sharing my learning journey with them, I will model how powerful and meaningful creating your own learning experience can be.  I hope that I can help inspire them to pursue their passions and interests and share their own learning journeys.  

I’d love to hear about the learning journeys others have taken this summer?  Why did you decide to embark on these journeys?  How have these experiences pushed your thinking?  What will you bring back to the classroom with you this year?  

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