Stoking The Fires Of Teaching & Learning


Stoking The Fires Of Teaching & Learning

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

We had a nice snow day last week.

Much of the nation has been getting those wintry days off–the type of days that makes teachers and students rejoice. On my snow day, I woke up, made coffee, and checked social media to see if the world got buried while I slept an hour later than usual. There was a post on my Facebook reading, “Watching the news about the storm that is ‘painting the East Coast white’…and you wonder why we’ll never leave California.”

“Californians. Drinking lattes, tanning, surfing, picking fruit from their own trees, even in ‘winter,’” I thought. Got to love them. But I like snow. I wouldn’t trade New England for all the 49ers fans in the world. There’s something about the quiet in the air as the world shuts down, pausing for a moment for the plow, birds hopping around, tracks of wild animals undisturbed in the snow…

I walked over to the wood stove. It was cold. Smoldering. “You should have been up two hours ago,” it said. True. I was late. I stirred the embers and picked a log off the pile.

“You’ll do,” I told the log, choosing one with frilly edges that would catch in the last of the burning coals. It works. The fire burned once again.

Fire needs three things–a spark, oxygen, and fuel. Without any one of those things, it refuses to burn. The wood stove is useless. It’s always best to keep a fire burning, to maintain it, rather than to try and build it from scratch.

It’s a nice metaphor for our lives as teachers. Teachers need to keep the fire burning bright.

Wood stoves teach a lot about that. I must keep the coals burning, stack the logs just so, and clean out the ashes, always having a fresh supply of wood ready to go. Educators–all people, really–need to do all of those things in our lives.

First, keep that “pile of logs” stacked nicely. Each log I stack represents something I do to be proactive–keep healthy, to attend to my family, eat well, get enough sleep, and avoid being overworked. Too often, teachers crash–we run out of logs and the fire goes out. There’s no time for that in teaching.

“Stacking the logs” in our lives is important. Each one represents our commitments and priorities, which must be arranged to allow enough free time for our spirits to thrive. Overpacking schedules suffocates us the way cramming logs in the stove chokes out the fire. Yet we continue to do so. This kills our creativity and productivity.

Less, not more, works in nature, and in life. Teachers cannot fight the laws of nature. We aren’t superhuman.  We must “stack the logs” just so.

“Cleaning out the ash” is the most important thing of all. Leaving the ash in the stove clogs it up. It can’t burn efficiently. In our daily lives, we “clean away the ash” by abolishing negative thoughts, habits, people, and influences. That gives us room for fresh oxygen–things that make our lives positive.

In creating the best environment for our fire to burn bright we receive our inspiration. We inspire others. It’s what teaching is all about. We never know the exact moment when we affect someone’s life forever. And that moment has a multiplier effect–probably for generations.

Don’t let the spark go out. And don’t burn yourself out by piling too much on the fire.

Teaching, surprisingly enough, is the profession with the highest burnout rate. Teachers work twenty-five hours a day. We take work home, plan, answer emails and calls between bites of dinner, run activities and sports, and contend with outside pressures such as standards, curriculum writing, policy changes, time-consuming requirements for teacher evaluation, and managing our own professional development.  It’s important to maintain our inner fire, not only for ourselves, but because this is a profession where we’re required to lead others.

So, when you get a snow day off from school, try not to use the day as a “free 24 hours” to catch up on grading midterms, planning lessons, and doing things that can’t be done in a legitimate work week. We’ll make that work up in June.  When we work 24 hours a day, we give society false expectations of what we can do.  Pace yourself. Take a break. Play in the snow. Read a book that’s for you, not just another book on curriculum. We must take time to chop the logs, stack them right, and clean out the ash in our lives.

Then, we’ll have our fires burning strong and we can do great things.

Here are a few Learnist boards for keeping the fire burning bright.

5 Learnist Boards To Help Promote The Fire Of Learning

5 Unusual Forms of Meditation that Improve Focus & Concentration My friend tells me to meditate, and when I’m done meditating, meditate longer. I do, but it’s hard to do with a six-year old. This board by show activities that serve that purpose–clearing out the mind and keeping the body fit at the same time. It’s important to do both.

How Do Teachers Inspire Curiosity? Teachers are the ones that inspire curiosity. To do so, they must be inspired. This board from Discovery’s “Curiosity” digs deeply into that specific subject. Every episode of this show inspires curiosity, however, since the entire point of the production was to uncover the answers to all those things about which we’ve always been curious, but never really thought to ask.

Teacher Burnout This subject is critical. Many of us have suffered the symptoms of burnout. Eventually, it leads to a crash–either in physical, mental, or emotional health. More and more, we study this in society and employers are recognizing that keeping a long, steady pace with the best employees is the way to run the workplace.

This applies to teachers, too. When you see the signs of burnout, don’t continue on that path. Make a change. You’ll notice the payoff in increased inspiration and happiness, which both benefit the classroom as well.

Must Read Books for Teachers that are Not Teacher Books I read a lot of books. I don’t read a ton of pedagogy books. The reason is, that teach all day long. In order to “clean out the ash” I read books from other fields, most notably business, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Once we apply these proven concepts to the field of education, we’re on our way to creating an education system that leads the world once again.

Many educators have read Dan Pink, but have you read James Altucher, Kamal Ravikant, and Adam Grant? If not, you should. You’re missing opportunities for inspiration that you will apply to education. I made this board because I think it’s important for educators and ed leaders to read classics like Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” but it’s even more critical to follow the work of modern-day influencers and entrepreneurs as well, because without exception, these are the people I want my students to be.

Image attribution flickr user georgiepauwels; Stoking The Fires Of Teaching & Learning