William Sprankles @wsprankles

5 Decades – A Reflection

The art of reflecting...

As I sat this morning and listened to the Princeton band, I was reminded that I am entering my fifth decade in the district (I started in the 70’s).  It got me to wondering if I could put together a list of things I have learned – to share.  So, here they are, my highlights – not the sum total of what I learned, but a taste.

  1.  Sweat the small stuff. – A short kind phrase to a student or staff member is like that butterfly that moves the world.  You may not realize it but when you say “Nice shirt” or “nice shoes”, or “I like your look!”, it may be the only kind word said to that person all day.  It will pay huge dividends if you practice doing that on a regular basis with students or teachers.
  2. Never say, “You need to learn this for the test”.  It feeds into anxiety and diminishes what you are doing.  If it’s worth knowing, it’s worth knowing.  Not because we have a test Friday and certainly not because the state has a test in the Spring.  Knowledge and skills are what we are pushing and they are worthy in and of themselves.  The more you learn, the more valuable you will be to an employer and the more you will appreciate the world around you.
  3. There is a fun way to learn everything.  I don’t mean you have to have a rap musical for algebra, but I do think I sometimes spent too much time on what I was teaching than on how I was teaching.  Pedagogy is a craft and there are as many ways to teach something as there are stars in the sky.
  4. Pay yourself first.  You are not just a teacher or principal, but a person with a lot of other responsibilities.  Make sure you take care of yourself.  You can’t help others if you can’t accept help…..or are in need of help.
  5. Talk to other teachers.  Whether it’s a technology tip or an older teacher who can explain the retirement system, I found I learned a lot from other teachers.  Having lunch with different folks enabled me to learn all kinds of new things.  Teachers are really very bright, each in their own way.
  6. Ask questions.  Whether at a staff meeting or in your class.  You won’t know if you don’t ask is a great statement but so many times we don’t ask.  Some of the best days in class I would just keep asking students questions…..and wait for their answers.
  7. Keep looking for answers.  If you think you know all the answers, you are wrong.  There are so many new things out there and keeping an open mind to doing something different will keep you young.  Whether it’s Twitter, a new kind of music, or just something you have never tried…..clearly, variety is the spice of life!  Try something new.  It might surprise you, and it will definitely keep you young!
  8. Don’t burn bridges.  You never know who will come back into your life when you least expect it, so keep all the friends you can.  My first year teaching the assistant principal who evaluated had been (at another school) my sister’s government teacher.  He remembered her.  He remembered me.  A former tenant of mine now teaches art at the middle school.  You never know when someone will re-enter your life.  Be nice.
  9. Be prepared to not be liked by everyone.  Sometimes when you are the one to ask questions or try something new, people can resent the notion that you aren’t “going along”.  In my first year at a staff meeting in the Social Studies department I “suggested” that perhaps showing movies three out of five days a week might have something to do with why students didn’t learn.  The next day the whole department was in my room with notepads to “learn” from the “expert” first year teacher.  I was embarrassed, but I also learned a valuable lesson.  Teachers can get set in their ways and not want to change.  That’s too bad.  Experts in learning should be expert learners.

Tim Dugan

Director of Technology & School Improvement


One comment on “5 Decades – A Reflection

  1. James Reckers
    October 10, 2013

    All very salient points:
    1. Many don’t realize the power of one small kind word; or more broadly the power of positive thinking. A positive attitude can be the most powerful driving force behind success, even more than natural intelligence or talent; and one kind word can really bolster another’s self-image and consequently their ability to maintain a positive attitude.
    2. It always made me more nervous when teachers said this, particularly because I’ve always been a poor test-taker.
    3. Absolutely can make all the difference. Also, teachers must be excited about what they teach if they hope to get the students excited.
    4. Ahh, cura te ipsum for teachers, not just physicians.
    5-6. As a student teacher, I’ve found the more teachers I can seek guidance from and ask questions of, the easier it is for me to design engaging lesson plans. Might seem like a small step, but it goes a long way.
    7. School is where we learn how to learn; the rest of our lives encompass all the learning.
    8. Every bridge burned is potentially dozens of doors and windows forever shut to you.
    9. No matter how right or wrong our methods are, someone won’t like it; so we might as well choose right.

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