Do you feel the need to "Reclaim your Calling"?
Updated: May 16
The title of this book is what hooked me: “Reclaiming our Calling: Hold onto the Heart, Mind and Hope of Education”. I’ve been a teacher for 22 years (gasp), so I’ve seen a LOT of changes in the education system in that time – some good, but many not so much. The most significant changes have revolved around standardised testing, student performance, teacher performance, data (oh, So. Much. Data) and the expectations of the profession. Oftentimes, it has felt that the heart, mind and hope of education were slipping away – not from the passionate educators who give their all for their students day and day out, but definitely from the ‘powers that be’ who govern the education system. So this is why the title of the book appealed to me – I wanted to ‘reclaim my calling’ as an educator.
From the powerful foreword, written by a student (wow!), which highlighted the impact teachers can have, to the anecdote author Brad Gustafson shares in the prologue, I was drawn in. The personal anecdotes and stories continue, many speaking to the heart of our profession, along with questions and strategies to help us connect to the core of our calling as educators. I couldn’t wait to delve into the rest of the book, and the ‘Four Passions’ of the profession.
This section is all about our ‘why’ and the moral imperative we all have as educators. We are reminded that we need to teach the whole learner – a fact many of us already know - however In this day of standardised testing and the focus placed on test results, it can be easy to lose our way. We are urged to remember WHO we are teaching and WHY we’re teaching them. The part I liked most about this section, was the discussion around surface-level vs transcendent learning. Brad helps us explore ‘acts of intentionality’ to foster learning that lasts.
In this section we delve into the importance of developing meaningful relationships with our students – connecting the heart. Brad shares the power of letting go of our assumptions and truly listening to students and families, as well as a useful template to help us identify learning success for the whole learner. He then challenges us to ‘create space for our heart to work’ by identifying things we could let go of in order to make space for things our heart might embrace. I’ve included one thing on my “Things I could Let Go and Embrace” list here.
“If we want students to associate the same reverence for their school as we do, we have to stop clinging to practices and pedagogy they don’t value. We need to rethink the things preventing students from falling in love with school”
This section also helps us with ways to know the learner and identify any blind spots we may have when it comes to this. Many of these blind spots are created by the systemic priority from ‘above’ place on high-stakes testing, making transcendent learning less likely. We become so focused on what students can’t do that we miss the opportunity to identify what they can do. We are reminded that we need to actively look for these. Again, Brad leads us through an activity to help us focus our heart on the important work and priorities, in order to reduce our blind spots. My top three radar items are listed below.
· Knowing my students: developing meaningful relationships and connections.
· Teaching the whole child: providing relevant experiences that support the development of all areas of learning – including social, emotional, and academic.
· Foster a love of reading: develop a class and whole school reading community so that students become life-long readers.
“The mind of our profession is one of our greatest collective assets” but can be hijacked by ‘autopilot mode’.
This section unpacks autopilot mode and offers six strategies to disrupt it and the unhelpful scripts we might run in our minds. Brad shares real examples of implementation of each of the strategies, which helps explain and clarify your understanding, as well as helping you identify how you can apply each of the strategies to interrupt autopilot and unhelpful scripts.
By far, my favourite part of this section urges us to ‘find our jelly’ – or our strengths and passions – as well as the ‘jelly’ of our students to amplify their passions and create meaningful ways to take student learning deeper.
“When we find our jelly and help those around us find theirs, lasting learning in the result.”
We could all use more hope in our lives these days. From what we see happening around the world and in our own country and communities, to the negative opinions about our profession, to the struggles our students face…it could be easy to despair. But we mustn’t ever, ever, ever lose hope. We must continue to be passionate, to strive to do whatever it takes for our students to succeed, and always do what we know in our heart is best for the whole learner. In this section, Brad shares, and explains, four levers to meaningful change:
Practice a Pedagogy of Choice
Repurpose Existing Resources
Prioritise Content Creation
Amplify Student Voice
My ‘big’ lever for our 2019 school year is going to be amplifying student voice. Our school has already started this journey, but I think we still have a way to travel. Luckily, it’s not a journey I have to travel alone, as there are a group of committed educators also advocating to empower students. I’m excited about implementing our ideas to allow students to share their stories with authentic audiences – to allow them to dream and to give them hope.
“The hope of education rests in our ability to see school through the eyes of the learners we serve. It’s only from a place of deep empathy that meaningful change and innovation can spring.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and want to sincerely thank Brad for sharing his story. Through doing so, I believe he will inspire other educators to keep the heart, mind and hope of our calling. My main takeaway is a feeling of validation – it’s wonderful knowing you’re on the right track when you focus on the needs of the whole learner. If this appeals to you, then I encourage you to read this book and also join me in Brad's #UndergroundBookClub, which is for anyone interested in making a 'child-centred ruckus'.