Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day 81: Control

I've been thinking quite a bit recently about control.  This is a major theme of educational philosophy and it has an incredible number of facets.  Educators discuss how to get students to take control of their own education.  We discuss how (and whether) to give up our control of the classroom for the benefit of those students.  We complain about administration making us do things that we don't want to do and how it feels to be controlled in that way.

We talk about the factors of a student's life that are beyond our control, such as home/community environment, aptitudes and knowledge when they enter our rooms, social issues, poverty, racism, etc.  We have a modicum of control over these things when they come to our room, but that accounts for a VERY small portion of their lives.

So I've been thinking about control.  Specifically, one of my major goals for this year (life) is to do a better job of categorizing the things that I can control and the things that I can't.  Once I have those categories, I want to be able to let go of the latter.

This idea has infused many of my interactions with my students (and my children) this year.  A typical conversation goes something like:

Me: "Don't hit her. It's not nice to hit people."
Her: "She hit me first!"
Me: "That may be true, but you only have control over your own actions.  You are in charge of you and your actions, not her."

I'll leave it up to you to decide if this was a conversation with my 8th graders or my 5 year old.

I'm much better at dispensing sage advice than I am at following it.

In spite of what is told to us by educational policy makers, even something like students engagement is only partially in our control.  No matter how engaging you make a lesson, if a students is worrying about a sick parent or where their next meal is coming from, it's going to be much more difficult to get them involved in learning.

At the age of 12, 13 and 14, long term concerns almost always take a back seat to short term ones.  Even though I'm not a teenager, this is still true for me much of the time.

So the question that I've been asking myself is how much of my surroundings can I actually control. Some things are very clear.

Things outside of my control:

  • Student home-life
  • District mandates
  • Class size
  • Snow days/delay days

Things inside of my control:

  • My attitude towards my class and teaching
  • How I interact with my students
  • How I interact with my coworkers

Other things are not so clear.  These are things that I clearly have SOME influence on, but I honestly don't know how much:

  • How engaged my students are
  • How well my lessons do
  • How much work my students actually do

With these three categories in mind, what I want is to be able to know what goes where and then how to deal with it.

If something is outside of my control, I want to be able to dismiss it, or at least not stress about it.  This, I think, has been the purpose of my blog from the beginning.  I have tried very hard to not write about things that are outside of my control because it doesn't serve any useful purpose.  I want to be reflecting on my own abilities, my own interactions and my own thoughts and relationships.

Also, knowing that I have a tendency to complain, this blog has been a place where I don't allow myself that indulgence.

The real goal is to move that outwards to the rest of my life.

I know it takes practice and this blog has been the first step.

I'm worried, however, that because of the sheer volume that I write here, I'm allowing myself to say "I'm doing enough."

I'm not doing enough.  I need to focus more on the things that are within my control and letting go of the things that aren't.

If I were religious, I'm sure there would be some sort of a ...prayer...that would help me to reach ...serenity...

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