My first year teaching, I had one student in my fourth period freshman English classroom that I really struggled to connect with. Everyday, I would greet my students at the door, and he would walk right past my “hello” and high-five. Every attempt I made to connect failed. My get-to-know-you questionnaires were left blank, and my questions of the day were left unanswered. It was frustrating to say the least – I was trying so hard to connect to this student. I kept trying… seemingly without luck. Then, right around winter break, I told my students if they were interested in volunteering at an animal shelter to put their name down on the piece of paper that was being passed around. This student not only wrote their name down, but they came up to me after class to talk to me about how excited they were to volunteer! This was a pivotal moment for me: I realized that although I thought many of my attempts to connect failed, they didn’t. This experience taught me that even though I can’t always see the impact of my actions, my actions do have an impact on those around me, and I need to make sure my impact is positive. 

Another pivotal moment in my education career came later when I was teaching a blended English course. It was the first time I taught a blended course, and it was also the first time blended courses were offered in the English department. On top of teaching a new format, I was teaching a new-to-me grade with a new-to-me curriculum. Not to mention, I was piloting standards based grading. Oh, and I was the only teacher teaching blended at this level. To say I was on the struggle bus that year is a complete understatement. I was working incredibly hard, but things just did not seem to be working. Around this time, I was also reading Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. The next day, at the beginning of class, I stood in front of 32 juniors in high school and shared that I was struggling. I shared everything I was struggling with, and I gave them an opportunity to share their struggles. This led to some changes on my end, and some changes on their end. This experience reminded me that vulnerability and transparency go a long way to build trust and relationships.

I was reminded of both of these experiences, and their impact on me when I read Thomas C. Murray’s Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime last month. The premise of the book is centered around building learning experiences for learners rooted in relationships and active learning. What I love most about this book is the way that Murray weaves his own personal and authentic experiences with practical strategies you can implement to create learning that will last forever! 

As we enter the home-stretch of the 20-21 school year, which has probably felt like ten years rolled into one, what better way to reignite your spirit, collaborate with like-minded individuals, and learn how to design impactful experiences than by learning yourself through an online book study reading Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime by Thomas C. Murray. You fill your students’ buckets every single day, and now it’s time to fill your own bucket. This book study will empower you through learning and provide space to reflect, connect, and apply your learning to continue to do what is best for students.

If you are interested in reading this easy-to-read and practical book while also earning 8 PD hours, join our professional learning network and participate in a 4 week online book study starting April 12th, where participants read and interact through modules released weekly! Click here to register through Illinois Online Academy!

I hope you can join me in this incredible opportunity.

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