Reflections While Gardening

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Megan HallBy Megan Hall, MN STOY 2013

 

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about Katherine Bassett, Executive Director of NNSTOY, because I’ve been working in the garden. When we parted ways at the end of the 2014 NNSTOY Annual Conference, Katherine told me that she was planning to spend a week working from home and gardening. Now, whenever I work in my own garden, I imagine Katherine Bassett working in hers. In Minnesota, July is high gardening season. Because my ideal universe includes homegrown tomatoes, blueberries and basil – well, let’s just say I’ve been thinking about Katherine Bassett quite a bit lately.

When I first met Katherine, it was at the 2013 NNSTOY Annual Conference in Minneapolis. I had been named 2013-2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year two months before, and had not meet my class of 2014 STOYS or gone through Jon Quam School. The 2013 conference was my introduction to the STOY world. I spent most of the conference in a sort of dazzled confusion, trying to assimilate my new professional world. After the 2013 conference, I went home and gardened my way back to thinking normally. We had very few weeds last July.

This year, I knew what to expect, and was nevertheless dazzled again: figuratively (“These teachers are amazing! That’s Angela Duckworth! Did I really just stand up and answer Arne Duncan’s question?”) and literally (“Help! I’ve been blinded by the mummers’ hats!”). However, experience helped, and I kept my wits about me enough to bring home three of the many gifts the conference had to offer: clarity, connections, and confidence.

As a State Teacher of the Year, I am privileged to walk through a number of political doors. But as a full-time classroom teacher, I don’t always have the time to knock, enter, and listen. The NNSTOY Annual Conference presents the education political scene with clarity and concision. Leaving Philadelphia this year, I had absolute clarity on the issues and trends I needed to pursue back home.

I’ve never felt so connected as I do at NNSTOY events — learning about the presenters’ research, political work, and classroom innovations is absolutely inspiring. The dazzle of these connections is underscored by the understanding that any of us could contact these experts and have instant insight and support. At home, we can build the connections into true relationships, by taking the time to send thank-you notes (and, perhaps in cases of extreme gratitude, flowers). The latest findings are at our fingertips, thanks to these relationships. When I was preparing a presentation on the value of social and emotional learning for my state’s professors of pre-service teachers, for example, Richard Roberts sent me oodles of data. No STOY is ever truly alone because we have each other and because NNSTOY connects us to the great minds in education.

My principal gives our faculty books from time to time, and the latest gifts were Mindset by Carol Dweck and The Pedagogy of Confidence by Yvette Jackson. While I expect he meant these books to impact my teaching, they’ve also provoked considerable reflection on my journey as a STOY. After the 2014 NNSTOY Annual Conference, I felt my confidence shift upwards to a new level. Guilty confession: I sometimes fall prey to the “I’m just a teacher” narrative. I fight it, because self-demotion is antithetical to efficacy. But being beneath the notice of leadership is a role that many teachers play as managed employees. NNSTOY helps me break out of that mindset and to accept a teacher-leader mentality. As a member of NNSTOY, I belong to the Clan of the Credible. I know what I’m doing, and those experts whose knowledge I value want to know my opinion. The day after returning from NNSTOY, I drove past the bookstore owned by Garrison Keillor, the famous radio host of “A Prairie Home Companion.” I thought to myself, “I bet I could get a meeting with Garrison Keillor.” I have no reason to meet with Garrison, but it was a confident thought — evidence that NNSTOY is changing my mindset and helping me let go of the “just a teacher” nonsense. Maybe after next year’s conference I’ll be confident enough to grow dahlias and hollyhocks; for now I’ll keep it simple and stick to the black-eyed Susans.


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