REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
Tomorrow, the kids come back. Last night, I climbed a wall, all the way to the top. This post is about why I think climbing is a good metaphor for teaching.
I haven’t been climbing, and I mean indoor mock rock climbing, for very long, just a handful of times. The first time I did it, I was petrified of moving beyond jumping distance of the floor, but gradually, as I got comfortable with the belay system and talked myself through my heart-racing fear of heights, I started to have fun. This experience is not unlike the first time you observe a class you will teach in, or realize someone is going to watch you do a lesson, or even experience that bit of anxiety that still makes you have nightmares before the first day of a new school year. Once you’re past that though, you start to pay attention to the course ahead, and enjoy puzzling out your route. Imagine the wall is a class of students, and it presents various challenges, some of them complex, some of them straightforward. The wall is also within a building of many walls, the school community, or if I ever get outside, a rock face of a bigger mountain (I’m quite comfortable in my building!). The toe holds jutting out from this wall are crucial, and I equate those to all the professional development and training we do as teachers. While there are incredible amounts of research and resources behind these toeholds, and complex systems in place, we just hang on to those key pieces that are going to move us up the wall, towards successful learning with our students.
We wouldn’t be climbing if we didn’t use our upper body, our arms and our hands to reach higher and higher with every balanced step. Those reaches are our own creativity, flexibility and patience as we look for that next move towards helping a child make progress. The handholds are the positive learning experiences we achieve with our students, and when we reach them, we are confident, and we are motivated to keep on climbing. Even when our muscles start to burn, and feel like they might give way, and the next hold seems too distant, we know that if we just keep reaching, we’ll make some progress towards the top. At times, we may have to take a break, or at least I know I do, and rely on the support of others. My husband is a fantastic climbing buddy, he tells me to hang back on the rope to look at my route, take a breath, and get right back to it. Just like my colleagues and I at school remind each other to take time for ourselves, to step back from a situation to get clarification, and then keep trying. When we reach the top, when we see a child succeed, it is exhilarating. We can then look back and say, “Wow! That was hard, but we made it.” The next route will be challenging too, and as we attempt higher and higher climbs, we may experience some of that same old fear of heights creeping back in, but when we know the result of our efforts is that fantastic feeling of reaching the top, it is worth overcoming our jitters.
Each time we climb, there will be familiar aspects too. Some of those footholds will ring a bell, and we’ll be thankful when we see them. Some of those handholds will remind us of other times when we felt like we were in the “zone,” and we will be delighted that creating that positive learning experience almost seems routine now. In our discussions with other climbers, we will gain new techniques that make our climb more exciting or manageable. We will watch other climbers too, and we will be in awe of their skill, hoping one day to reach their level of calm, flexibility and grace as they swing, jump and pull themselves into harmony with the wall, the challenges of education.
I’m thrilled to step onto the wall, both at the gym and at school. Can’t wait for another great year!