Thursday, March 23, 2017

It's a Matter of Trust - Tending the Garden

photo courtesy
Anyone who has seen the landscaping around my house will instantly realize that gardening is not a passion of mine.  I certainly have an inner desire for a lovely English garden-like pathway of beautiful color up my front walk, and I annually purchase way too many flowers from the annual Spring Thing plant sale - that benefits the music programs at school -- to satisfy my vision, but I quickly lose interest in the battle against the weeds, and feel frustrated with my imperfect attempts, let alone ever consider volunteering my home to be on the Garden Tour.

Last week was Spring Break for many colleges, and the hallways at school became alive with the maturing faces of alumni who stopped in to say hello.  As a teacher, it's always great to see former students who are excited about learning and thriving in their new environments. To me, these visits are akin to my desire for success in my garden, with much better results. They may have graduated, and transplanted themselves elsewhere, yet they are growing and thriving, and stopping back to share their excitement and beauty.

One such student stopped by to chat about TDO. If you're a regular reader, and I realize that this has been a relatively irregular year in terms of the number of posts, you may recall that TDO stands for Talent Development Opportunity - 80 minutes a cycle to work on becoming more proficient at something of interest.  Bryce was interested in revisiting the TDO concept, this time as a future educator researching the concept for a college project.  Bryce's visit got me thinking - and reflecting - on the way TDO is running this year, and challenged me, once again, to consider the good that comes out of this process, even when I don't feel so good about it at all.

Wait.  I know what you're thinking. "What did she say?"

Yes, there are times when I question TDO.  There is a definite population of students who are completely engaged, focused and productive. Then there are others who think that I don't know that they have multiple tabs open on their computers, and that they are scamming me into believing that they are on task and learning.  Still others have signed out of my room to be working in specialized areas of the school - with other trusted colleagues checking in on them - while they use music practice rooms, STEM computers, art studios or the wood lab, allegedly completing the work they've challenged themselves to do this semester.

Nothing hurts my teacher heart more than having to confront students who are clearly jeopardizing the TDO process for others, demonstrating less-than-appropriate behavior while allegedly "working" on their projects.  When I become aware of students who are not living up to their end of the respect bargain, it is especially tough.

The words posted on social media -- accompanied by a photo of a clearly off-task kid -- are devastating:

"Teachers:  you're so exceptional student .... a great kid.... such a hard worker..."

"Me: 'Supposed to be doing work.' "

It's interesting that this event is timed so closely to Bryce's visit.  It also has prompted me to resurrect this blog at 4 am, as I process the value of TDO, and all the good that can come from working independently on something that is a source of pride to the students.

With regard to that Instagram post, yes, these kids are exceptional students and great kids.  While I certainly have dialed back on my opinion of the issues of responsibility and whether they are "hard workers," I believe that together we can redesign the TDO goals for this semester to be projects with significantly more direct supervision in my room, as I tend this garden with a little more finesse than the flowers up my walkway at home.  For while those annuals at home can be replaced at the end of the season, in the TDO garden I am nurturing life-long learners - who are responsible, exceptional students, hard workers and great kids --

also known as perennials.  

 My goal is that they take root, and spread like the weeds that will, no doubt, overtake my garden this spring, and are able to have learned something from this obvious stray from my garden path.

(I may be a gardener after all.  I just hate getting my hands dirty.)



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