The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom

by Mary Howard

Dan Tricarico, author of The Zen Teacher, was our #G2Great guest host on January 28, 2016 and his message spread across the Twittersphere in an hour long calm. Zen Teacher is a literary buffet meant to be savored word by delectable word. Dan serves a double helping of professional and personal Zen at the perfect time in education as he explains in an email interview:

Teachers are overwhelmed, overstressed, and overburdened. The Testing Machine is out of control. Class sizes have grown astronomically. Funds and materials are in short supply. I’ve noticed that the more skilled and gifted the teacher, the higher their stress, tension, frustration, and disappointment. Because they KNOW it should be different and could be BETTER.

Dan’s opening quote sparked a buzz of excitement that could lead us to “better”Quote OPEN

I was immediately drawn to the potential for Beginner’s Mind to impact the quality of our practices at a time when mandates, scripts, packages and programs seem to be the norm. Dan’s words remind us that not holding the answers in our hands can launch professional explorations of not knowing far removed from the guarantees, quick fixes, and silver bullets waved in front of us like a badge of honor. A Beginner’s Mind embraces the idea that there is great wisdom in taking the time to envision opportunities that are not yet in view.

Dan’s Beginner’s Mind exemplifies the extraordinary teachers in this country who still insist on keeping students at the center of their efforts. These teachers refuse to turn a blind eye to the thoughtful decision-making that can elevate teaching, knowing that professional excellence occurs only when a knowledgeable teacher is at the helm even when forging a path that is not always clear.  

The truth is, a Beginner’s Mind resides within every teacher willing to invest time and effort in the unknown. Good teaching is messy because students are rarely predictable. But if we can awaken our Beginner’s Mind and all of the uncertainty that involves, we can recapture the joy of surprise that comes when children, not publishers, are the heart & soul of our work. Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge that students always have been and always will be our first responsibility. And in the end, they are the reason excellent teachers across the country delight in entering the zone of ‘not knowing’ where endless possibilities abound.

As Dan said, “I’ve always really gravitated toward the idea that we were meant to dance with life, not control and overpower it.”

Oh yes Dan, dance indeed!

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DAN CLOSE

Standing Tall on the Mountain, Together

By Amy Brennan

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 8.35.03 AM

“The Courage Rules” was the topic of our twitter chat  on January 14, 2016 with guest host Kari Yates, author of Simple Starts.  Kari is among the many others who stand tall on the mountain with me and give me the courage to push ahead and persevere.  They give me the courage to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.  

Reflecting on the chat archive I realize just how fortunate I am to join together on our #G2Great mountaintop each week.  If that mountaintop was not enough, I also have support from the #G2Great Voxer group that goes on practically 24/7 across multiple time zones where we share and grow ideas together.  It helps to practice The Courage Rules with the strength of my friends who stand beside me each week in my professional learning network.  All educators deserve a professional learning network like this one.  All educators benefit from thinking in the company of others where they can lean in for learning and grow ideas through thoughtful discussions.  In reflecting on this particular chat it feels like two of these rules for courage especially spoke to me this week. 

Rule #4 Reflect, learn and adjust
Question 4 (How do you consistently build this cycle into your professional life?) focused on Rule #4, reflecting, learning and adjusting.  As I read through the answers and discussion that followed the common thread seemed to involve the reflection becoming more than just a thought in one’s own mind in order to effectively learn and adj
ust. The common thread was in creating something else with that thought. It could be either a written account or a spoken account of that reflection.  Both of these approaches enable us to commit to the reflection either in the actual written word that can be reread or in a discussion with someone else, usually a PLN or colleagues in person.  It is after that next step that our reflection allows us to grow and then adjust.  It takes courage to reflect in the company of others or even in the written word but this is what make the learning and adjusting possible.
fran q4jennifer jones q4Kari Q4daniburtsfieldA4

Rule # 6 Don’t give up when things get tough

Question #6 (Why is this rule so essential to our change efforts?) in the chat focused on rule #6, don’t give up when things get tough.  Perseverance was a common word in many of the responses to this question, it feels like this is when we are just on the edge of glory.  It is difficult, we want to turn back but if we just push ahead we push past that edge.  It takes courage to push beyond that edge.  I for one am grateful for finding my people, my tribe, my gang at #G2Great.  When I am at the edge and it seems too much to bear, it is the collective learning of my PLN that helps me break through.  

jennifer s q6julieanne A6kari q6trevor q6 As we stand tall on the mountain together, we can find the courage to push ahead and persevere, to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.