For the past five months, I have walked for at least an hour every day. Walking is my ‘me’ time. It affords me many healthful benefits.
My favorite walks are on the trails of the north Georgia Mountains. A recent rainy and cold spell in Atlanta kept me closer to home, with walking routes through the neighborhood and nearby parks. One day, while on a near home route, I found 13-cents—a dime and three pennies. The following day I found a penny and two recyclable soda cans, redeemable for ten cents. A nickel was my haul the day after that. My weekly take totaled 94-cents.
And so it went…
Until one day. As I walked, I was feeling good about my newfound largess and eagerly looking for more. Walking eyes down and self-absorbed, searching for coins, cans and bottles, my head whacked a low hanging tree limb. Startled, I nearly fell over.
Balancing myself, I glanced skyward as I stood up. Beautiful, billowy clouds greeted me. Feeling dizzy, I stood straight and looked forward, two songbirds serenaded me as they flit by. The neighbor boy, pedaling his bicycle, waved. A nearby dog barked.
Walking again, head throbbing, I thought about my heads-down self-absorbed mode and how it led to my close encounter with the tree. Yes focusing had helped me find lots of loose change. But what did it cost me? How many priceless moments had I missed? Not just while walking through neighborhoods and parks, but through my life.
Every step I took caused my head to throb more. Each pulsation shook loose thoughts of work, career, and profession, of the courses taught, speeches given, articles written, and projects managed. Surely I met my obligations, but how much of what was going on around me did I miss? What had my head-down focus cost me and other people?
Back home, ice pack on my head, my thinking shifted to how the path we walk as teachers necessitates focusing on academic goals, objectives, standards, and measures. In this era of high-stakes testing and accountability we have no choice but to do so. It is our obligation.
Does meeting our academic obligation preclude us from noticing, engaging, and enabling our students? I think not. Looking up and around—listening to students, finding out about them, learning what matters to them—informs our teaching. These personal connections help us help students learn more and better. When in head-down mode, what we think and do (and students learn) is limited. Looking up, being connected with the here and now, frees us from day-to-day routines. It leads us to take risks, try new things, and challenge ourselves. When we do, we grow, and so do our students.
It is the personal connections that make meeting the academic obligations possible. If you teach, you know this to be true. Unlike me, you need no whack to the head to realize it.