Persistence as Professional Development

Climbing-PersistenceIt’s hard not to sound trite about the value of persistence to our students, ourselves. Even this lovely, succinct TED video almost falls prey (which isn’t going to stop me from opening up class with it right after break). I’m thinking about this hard, though, as a major project falls into pieces.

I had been working since June to get my kids connected, through a local nonprofit, to a project where they deliver and read picture books to kids in poverty-stricken schools about five miles from here. I developed an entire unit around examining altruism and consumerism, with the literacy field trip being the capstone. I sold it to my principal and district, shockingly and gratefully, since we’re all under the financial gun.

All looked good– until plans with the chosen school fell through, and the substitute school couldn’t accomodate key curriculum elements in time to maintain the integrity of the unit.  On the advice of my principal, we postponed until next year.

So this stunk. And I cried. Being a dreamer and a perfectionist, I felt ashamed and guilty, as well as incompetent. And right there is when I could have chucked all the cumulative good in the attempt.

But for some reason, this year, the little handholds in the rock seem to be there– emotionally, mentally. I was able to see that even the aborted beginning of the project means that next time around, we’ll likely be able to bring it to fruition, having learned from the failure.

So many good ideas may die this little death in schools, I think. We pour ourselves into it, it gets stomped, and we’re tired and aching and overworked and overtaxed, and we ditch it– like so much bilge off a sinking boat.

Don’t. Despite the culture of Race to the Top. Despite the widespread gutting of real-time measures of growth in schools, in classrooms, in teacher evals. Don’t let them tell you that success happens in isolated ten-month chunks that have no relation to the longitudinal flow of how we actually learn and grow– as professionals, or as students.

Persistence is the only way anything worthwhile gets done at all.


And for those of you thinking about or currently working with consumerism and media literacy, here are the four resources that wrote the unit for me, basically.  I’d love feedback on related stuff you might be doing in your classrooms.

The New Mexico Literacy Project: quite possibly the richest resource I’ve found.

Project Look Sharp, Ithaca College

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

Mr. Mayo’s Shared Links and Articles: Thanks to Mr. Mayo, who generously assisted me.

8 thoughts on “Persistence as Professional Development

  1. Oh, every word you wrote is so true! Something about the setup of schools makes it sooo hard to make projects come together, especially large ones. And the pressures of daily work in the classroom are so intensive it is hard to keep up the drive to push initatives through. But we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are here for “the long haul” and some things ARE the right things to do, they just won’t happen as fast as we want them to. I’m in the nidst of two such things – one seems to be coming together, the other isn’t…

  2. Hi Dina,

    Sorry to hear this project didn’t pan out. You wrote:

    Persistence is the only way anything worthwhile gets done at all.

    This is a very true statement. One of my mottos as I tackle large projects with my students is “by any means necessary.” I tell myself that we are going to get this done and plow through, no matter what gets in our way! I also always think of Brian’s Crosby’s motto, “Learning is messy.” These large projects are tough to keep together. It often seems that there are so many forces working against you. However, it’s important to be persistent.

    I’m in the middle of a big documentary project right now with three of my film literacy classes. I’ve never done documentaries with students before and it’s a bit nervewracking. I have 18 different groups doing 18 different documentaries on 18 different topics. As usual, when we go through these large challenging projects, I’m filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. Doing large projects is like walking out on a thin limb of a tree. The further you go, the more you can start to hear the limb begin to crack and bend.

    I’m glad some of the resources I shared were useful.

  3. Hey, Mr. Mayo! Thanks for stopping by.

    I am in complete agreement with you. In fact, as the years go by, I find myself adding a corollary: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly the first time.” The more ambitious and meaningful the project, as you point out, the more things can (and do) go wrong. In fact, given the way our time and resources are limited as teachers, I’ve almost come to consider it a sign of good curriculum if I’m having a hard time implementing it.

    More philosophically, though, it is also that space of discomfort and struggle that is the birthplace of good things for our kids and ourselves. Richard Elmore puts it this way:

    You don’t really know what your espoused beliefs mean
    until you experience them in practice. The more powerful
    the beliefs, the more difficult and seemingly unfamiliar the
    practices. I now care much less about what people say they
    believe, and much more about what I observe them to be
    doing and their willingness to engage in practices that are
    deeply unfamiliar to them.

    And here, last night as I watched, is where a bunch of my pedagogical, psychological and philosophical puzzle pieces fell into place on this topic.

  4. Steve, I wanted to quite badly, but this first time around, it seemed to open up more digressions than I could handle (meaning only that the environmental impact of consumerism needed a lot more time devoted to it than I could manage). I am hoping to create and implement my first “Green English” unit this year, though, and there could easily be a place for it in there; and I definitely want to incorporate it next year.

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