One of the things I’ve tried to do this summer is to tend to myself and learn a few new things. It’s a clear intention of focusing on balance this month, because I know that balance will be challenged in the coming weeks. I tried a new type of yoga class called “Spin and Yin.” It was an ambitious undertaking as I am fairly new to both cycling and the regular practice of yoga. I was a bit out of my zone of proximal development, but I figured I’d get something of value in the next 90 minutes. As dozens of bikes started whirling an octave below the whirl of the fans, our instructor (Tina) humbly said, “I’ll be honest. If you’re new to spin, you’re not going to like this part. It’s hard. But the good thing about life is that it changes. It will be hard for a bit, and it will change. Like life. You’ll grow in ways…not just physically.”
It was at that moment that I mentally removed myself from the class. My backside was becoming numb, the lactic acid was building in my quads, but this statement pushed me out of the physical strains and into that mental space where a mind can wander. As my feet whirled around and the sweat dribbled down the back of my neck and into my eyes, I kept hearing Tina’s words. It wasn’t about spinning anymore. It was about life. It was about teaching and learning and somehow I was back in my comfort zone.
Tina had done what I, like thousands of other teachers, strive to do both daily and in the grand scheme of things. And it was 15 minutes into the class. This gal is good!
School is about feeling safe and known so that you can push yourself to take risks. I didn’t know any of these quasi-professional spinners, but I’ve been acquainted with Tina for years. She’s one of those innately positive people who attacks everything with wisdom, passion and an open heart and mind. I was willing to fumble and spin all in the name of fitness, better health, and a few good laughs.
Tina provided the guidance to use the high-tech bikes and tips on how to listen to our bodies. This is the type of scaffolding wise teachers employ. She nudged us to work through the tough stuff, because that is what you have to do (here and in life). Once you start, there’ll will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Now that these two pieces were in place, Tina pushed us into that zone of proximal development to try harder and do more than we thought we could. Music and humility helped make this possible, but so did the sense that she was alongside us being challenged and growing with us. In the classroom, we call that collaboration and community.
At the end of the yoga portion, she reminded us to draw on the stillness of that moment as we moved through our day. Stillness and silence are tough ones for me, but there were so many pieces of the class that lingered with me as I reflected on the class and my own teaching.
Did I keep the bike cadence at 90 rpm at all the right times? Turn the resistance up to the levels we were called to do? Heck, no. There were moments I could barely turn the pedals. If it was a class, I couldn’t have made an A for performance, but I sure put the effort into it and the lessons learned will stick with me.
A few reflections about teaching:
- Really good teaching should make kids feel safe and known.
- Scaffolding might sound like a funny word, but it’s essential. It’s the framework that shores up learning. Teachers provide enough guidance for exploration and let learners discover for themselves. It’s important remind ourselves how important this is and to share strategies with parents for whom this might not come naturally.
- Allow for individuals to learn individually, within the context of a community that shares expectations and goals. Classroom management, teacher language, and classroom guide lines help to set the tone (to read more, visit Responsive Classroom.)
- Stretch yourself to try something new. In a constructivist setting, that bubbles up naturally. Each of us needs to continue learning and growing.
- Expect and embrace the hard stuff, because there will be lots of it in life. And then it will change.
- Be sure to allow for time to move and stretch (not just for the little guys!) our bodies every day. Likewise, leave time for some consolidation and quite time. Our bodies thrive on this balance.
- There’s an awesome responsibility adults have to be positive role models for our kids. They’re always watching. We’ve got to always be mindful of the example of our actions, words, and attitude.
In the course of a 90 minute class, this yogi successfully summed up what good teachers must do. As teachers, our tasks is to teach content – cycling, geometry, spelling. But perhaps the bigger challenge for teachers is to teach kids the life skills to live balanced lives of purpose and curiosity, where they will most definitely face challenges and change. If they can navigate the hard stuff, they will grow in ways we cannot always anticipate. Accepting oneself and others for the unique person they are adds value to whatever communities we belong. Greater acceptance of who and where we are means less struggle and more energy to focus on what’s important – learning content, knowing oneself or others, learning about and making sense of a changing world where we can make valuable contributions.