Last week, I had a fantastic day at school, and I think it was because I did things that went against my daily routine.
I thought I had such a great morning routine that I had even written a blog post about it. My routine was THAT good.
- I typically set an alarm for bedtime.
- I’m in bed before ten each school night.
- I refrain from hitting the snooze button.
- I always eat a leisurely breakfast before leaving the house.
- I catch up on global news events each morning.
- I get free professional development each morning through podcasts during my 70-minute commute.
Last week, as a result of meeting up with a past student, someone I hadn’t seen in 15 years, my daily routine was thrown upside down, and yet somehow, I had a day so unique that it has led to this blog post.
My student, Ndu, was in Chicago with his wife, and we decided that they should both take the train out to the suburbs to come and meet my family, watch a local high school soccer game, and then I would take them to the airport the next morning for a 6:00 am flight to New York.
We had a great time. If being a teacher means planting trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit, this was a chance to see how one of my trees had grown since we had last met. And boy, had this one flourished.
Ndu is the founder of Word on the Curb, a Multicultural Research & Creative Consultancy, and is literally crushing life right now. I couldn’t be more proud and inspired by this young man I first taught as an 11-year-old and made captain of my basketball team back in London.
We stayed up late, way past my bedtime, despite knowing we had an early start in the morning. How early? I had to set my alarm for 3:45 am.
On top of the early start, I had to rush breakfast and make the most of our brief time together; there was no chance to listen to a podcast during my morning drive.
The airport is 20 minutes from my school, so after the drop-off, instead of arriving at work at 7:20 am, I arrived at 5:20 am…and that is why the rest of my day was so positive.
The pandemic, the return to in-person learning, and my return to teaching following over three months of recovering from double Achilles surgery have made me somewhat reclusive in the mornings. Typically I arrive at school, head to my desk, put my head down, answer emails, and plan lessons until it’s time for my first lesson. To make a solid start to the school year and focus intently on student relationships, I have neglected relationships with the adults in the building. This is ironic as I used to tout myself as the ‘Connected Educator‘!
My 5:20 am arrival, and the fact that I had left my school keys in my (locked) office, meant that I had nothing else to do except sit in the hallway, outside our mailroom, until the school woke up and teachers arrived. I chose this time to grade student work but having so much time on my hands, I could give much more detailed and personalized feedback. For the outstanding work, I was even able to email the students advisor and tell them that their student was performing above and beyond their peers. This was the first time this school year that I had an opportunity to send ‘positive emails’ about a student.
As time passed, I was visited by several individuals who stopped by and had a good chat with. Typically I speedwalk from one place to another, and my interaction with others is rushed and superficial. On this morning, I actually had time to engage. And I relished the opportunity.
First, one of the security staff visited with me. Our regular interactions consisted of polite comments and a shared joke or two, but we chatted for 20 minutes or so, and I learned about his time working overseas in Uganda. This reminded me that I need to find time to talk with him again in the future – he has some great tales to tell.
Appreciative of the break from grading, I returned to the task at hand but was then joined by a teacher from the Languages department. She is a family friend who read at my wedding, but the busy (heads-down) nature of my day means I rarely see her at school. We had a great catch-up. I learned about some of the SEL work she was doing with her students. This work includes working with an author who she is collaborating with for a new publication. We finished our chat with a promise to connect me with her author friend (so I can bring my book idea to fruition).
Other teachers to join me during this early arrival at school included a mentor of mine who gave me some sage advice, reminding me that I should be more visible around the school. I agreed. I provide professional development across the country but rarely share my ideas within my own building. We parted with a commitment for me to propose some brown-bag, lunchtime PD sessions for the faculty.
My final visit was from an Assistant Principal who agreed that I should share my experience more widely. I agreed that I needed to step up more. He nudged me towards increasing my visibility in the building, and I promised to retweet his last tweet to increase his visibility online.
I’ve often talked about how I live life gamefully. My analogy is that each positive interaction I have as I walk from one end of the building to the other is like Sonic the Hedgehog collecting gold rings. This approach means that I can’t help but have a good day. I level up as I collect those gold rings and my early arrival at school, with its many positive interactions with faculty, meant that I had leveled up before the school bell had rung for the start of the day!
I’ve had a solid start to the school year. My lessons have been sound, and my relationships with students are developing nicely. However reconnecting with my past student reminded me that I had neglected current relationships within the building. It’s time for me to open up more, get out of my office, and be more present…and perhaps arrive at work a little earlier.
Pair this blog post with the following:
Connect by David Bradford & Carole Robin