B.C. Women Educators Share Lessons Learned
The mission of Delta Kappa Gamma (DKG) International Society for Key Women Educators is to promote professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education. Thus, at our 2018 Spring symposium, keynote speaker and workshop leader, Charlene SanJenko of PowHERhouse, taught the B.C. women educators How to Achieve Balance as Leaders: how to balance the requirements of work with professional commitments, family and personal responsibilities.
We found that achieving balance is not always easy, especially in the early years of our careers. Therefore, at the end of our day, Charlene encouraged the older members to spread their net wide to the younger educators who were unable to attend, as well as those who are not yet members of our society by answering three questions which could be collated by one person into a short article called, “What I Would Tell My 35-Year-Old Self”.
Eight retired members representing all four chapters in our province responded to speak about what they would say to their younger selves about teaching children, working with parents and taking care of one’s self. Here are the answers to our collective selves.
What I would tell myself about teaching children?
I would tell myself to love my students just as I find them. They come from varied backgrounds, have varied interests, abilities and learning styles, but they all respond to kindness, acceptance and empathy. Of second importance, is to love what I do because that is where my creativity resides—whether it is planting a community garden with students, beginning the day with a song, talking about my own professional development activities that impact the classroom, or engaging in role-play. No matter what age the students are, they will connect with my enthusiasm for education long before they follow my rules.
Teaching and modelling relationships is important. Create opportunities for children to develop positive relationships with one another, with their communities and with their world. Encourage them to form opinions, to examine issues and social causes in their community and in the world. Teach them to give back. Let them know that it is okay to fail and show them how they might learn from their mistakes. Give them tools not answers.
Finally, be kind to yourself. No matter how hard I will try, I am not going to be 100 per cent successful with every student. My students, as well as I, are always a work in progress.
What would I tell myself about working with parents?
I don’t get to choose the parents of my students, but I get to choose how I respond to them. I need to remind myself that they all want the best for their children. Be honest with them even when a meeting is about issues that may be upsetting to them. Model acceptance, kindness and empathy even if I initially get a hostile response; parents also have difficult days and need to be acknowledged that they are trying their best to support their child and the school. In those times when I am worried about a meeting with a parent, I will ask an administrator to join me in the meeting to ensure that neither my words nor the words of the parent are misinterpreted.
I am not alone and don’t have to do it all by myself. Parents can become one of my best support systems for the classroom and in time, some may become lifelong friends. Supporting the parents’ efforts with their child’s schooling creates opportunities for parents and me to become partners in education. Invite them to become volunteers in the classroom, communicate the developmental successes of their child, and don’t be afraid to ask them for help in meeting the needs of their child. The relationships I foster with parents will pay dividends with the relationship that I have with my students.
What would I tell myself about caring for me?
Remember that school is only your day job; family and friends are your lifetime occupation so, keep time for family and friends unencumbered by work.
Some things will make life easier: preparing for my class ahead of time will make the day much less stressful. Invite family members to share in household chores to increase the enjoyment of family time and eliminate the feeling that I am holding down two full-time jobs. Take time off to look after my own child who is ill or going through a difficult time—that, too, is modelling respect and caring to both my family and the children at school. Plan for activities to do with friends and family so that I look out for my own health as well as my relationships. If the workload at times seems overwhelming, talk with my administrator while at the same time giving her/him suggestions on how it might be eased. For example, I may suggest that I need an educational assistant for a certain student for a specific activity.
Learn to work cooperatively with my colleagues; they all have special expertise that I can tap into. Become involved with out-of-classroom activities with colleagues—attend a school drama or music event; cheer on or coach a team. Have lunch with colleagues or go to a theatre together. There are many ways to get to know the people in your school which help to make the work experience all the more fun. School is not just a classroom and I am more than just an educator—be the real person that was drawn to this profession, one that will help others achieve great things. Knowing this and nurturing these relationships within the profession help to keep me strong.
Finally, don’t take everything too seriously. I don’t have to be everything to everybody. Have fun. Take time out just for me. Develop interests outside of school—learn to knit, read, bike, play tennis or badminton, go hiking and swimming, pick berries and grow a garden. Keep learning. Keep fresh in my profession. Enjoy the ride, because this is really the best career imaginable.
Responses compiled by Karin Breuer.
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