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Thrive!

Written by Christina Cantrill
April 14, 2014

In reading Meenoo Rami’s Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, I am struck by the fact that her final chapter is about empowering students. I am struck by this because so often teaching narratives start, not end, with the students. And of course, there is very good reason for this—as educators we want and need to put students at the center of the work. Rami argues this too, in fact, in the very beginning of her book. Yet, to get to a point where students are the center of her practice as an educator, Rami shares a set of deeply personal and professional practices that help to create the necessary base; Practices that include robust networking, the cultivation of a set of diverse mentors and colleagues, and the enrichment of her intellectual and emotional life as an person and as an educator. And she does this with a great deal of humility and elegance as well as, I believe, thoughtful clarity of purpose.

As I’ve been reading Thrive I have found myself talking about it and referring to it in conversations with friends and colleagues. Several times, in fact, I have referred to chapter 3 and, specifically, to a chart described there called, “What do you believe?” Set within a continuum of teaching beliefs that range from those that are more-content focused to those that are more student-focused, she asks questions about what we believe about our content area, about intellectual work, about instruction, and about being a teacher. “Feeling empowered to balance these tensions in your classroom makes us better teachers in the end.” she argues.

Just the other day, in fact, I was talking with an artist who has recently started teaching photography at the undergraduate level at a local community college. He is a photographer professionally and is teaching out of an interest in sharing his love of photography with others. However, after his first semester there, he shared with me a frustration with the complications of the lives of his students that undermine their ability to fulfill the “requirements of the syllabus”—attendance, weekly projects, etc. These complications include “one of his best students” who, he just found out, is restricted in his mobility as he is under house arrest and wearing a tethering anklet for the next two weeks.

I found myself turning to Thrive in this conversation and shared Rami’s idea of balancing passion for your content with the passions and experiences your students bring into your classroom. This shifted our conversation from one of frustration to one of possibility. He began talking about what else could happen if the lived experiences, passions and content of everyone in this photography studio could be brought into balance with each other. And I could see these ideas opening up the potential for him to enjoy teaching beyond the syllabus. It is in this way that I think Thrive can be a beacon for new and experienced teachers alike.

I have also come to appreciate the ways that this book has supported my colleague Meenoo Rami in sharing her reflective process and her networked communities with the wider world. For example, at a recent Philadelphia Writing Project event focused on celebrating educators who write about their work and share publicly, Meenoo was asked about whether her ideas apply to those teaching across disciplines. Meenoo responded yes, and coming from both a personal as well as an educational perspective, she said that at its core she has come to believe that there is a power in “making” that transcends disciplines. She writes about this in Thrive when she reflects again on the work happening in her classroom:

When students create content rather than just consume it, their engagement grows capaciously. In my classroom, the students who were really turned off by reader response projects based on choice reading during the first quarter were the same ones who were the heads of committees during our teen magazine production. They were leading tasks, supporting other students, and motivating others around them. (pg. 79)

Meenoo Rami is a reflective practitioner, a teacher who tends to her emotional and intellectual life, a successful networker who has connected herself to the mentors she needs as well as to larger fields of learning and creating. Through this work and these practices she has found creative and making-filled ways to design spaces for the complexity of ideas, lives and passions of herself and her students. I would therefore describe Thrive as both an essential and also a loving and compassionate resource for thinking about connected learning and teaching in our increasingly complex world today.

Check out the ongoing blog tour for Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching …

  • Yesterday’s stop: Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone
  • And coming up tomorrow: Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent
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