Being an educator has been a huge part of my life similar to motherhood. It has impacted me at the very core of who I am and has taught me to be a better human. At least I hope so!
Walking the Camino, I have reflected on how much of teaching relates to this journey. There are connections in the approach, in the interactions with others, and in the process.
Planning is Essential- Every night, we have a routine that includes a variety of actions. First, we read up on the next day’s trek. We check the mileage, what to expect from the terrain, and what the weather is predicted to be. Based on that information, we plan our clothing and footwear (boots or trail shoes). We also check on the number of villages and hamlets we will come across and what is available to get food and water. This is important as there are some sections where there are no places to eat or facilities for 6 to 8 miles. Therefore, we make sure we have enough snacks to get us to our next destination and use every bathroom available to us along the way.
In teaching, planning is also essential. We only have a limited amount of time during the day and the school year. Therefore, being prepared helps us stay focused and maximize our precious time during the school day. More importantly, being prepared helps us to serve our students and their needs. We must be as strategic and intentional as possible to address any gaps. Like in the Camino, we must have a game plan.
Gather Data and Make Adjustments Accordingly- Although we start off with a plan each day on the Camino, we have a limited locus of control. We don’t really have control over how our body will react to the trail that day or if the weather will be different from what we expected. Therefore, we have to gather data. Do my knees hurt? Are my feet too sweaty? Are those clouds rain clouds? Based on the data, we make adjustments to help us get to the next town injury free and safe.
Similarly in education, we have to constantly be gathering data about our students. Barreling through a lesson just because that’s what we planned for the day does not support our main goal- maximizing student learning. As educators, we are constantly analyzing student responses in order to make instructional decisions that will address students’ needs. Making the adjustments based on data is essential for learning to take place.
Chunk and Chew- Our goal on this journey is to complete the entire walk. In order to meet our goal, we have to chunk out the path into manageable sections. If we walk too many miles day after day, we increase our chances of injury and debilitating physical exhaustion. In addition while walking the chunk for the day, we have to chew the section. By this I mean, we have to pre-determine where we will take a break. It allows our bodies to do some healing to avoid any possible injuries.
Learning requires chunking and chewing as well. Our brains cannot take in mounds of new information. To actually learn something new, we need to teach the information in “bite sized” pieces or chunks and give our students time to “chew” or process it on their own as well as with with others. Incorporating where to chunk and chew in our instruction also provides us with an opportunity to address any misunderstandings or confusions that our students may be grappling with.
Words Matter– We have had an opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world on the Camino as well as a fair amount of U.S. citizens. Recently, we were at dinner with a group and one person was talking about her experiences with Mexican immigrants and Puerto Ricans in her work. As she was talking, she was using the word “unsophisticated” to describe some Puerto Rican clients. Of course, I couldn’t let that one go without asking, “When you say unsophisticated, what exactly do you mean?” After listening to her explanation, it was clear that she was working with people that had experienced generational trauma and that their ability to learn in school was negatively impacted by their experiences. This conversation made me realize yet again how much words matter.
As educators, the words we use could help students learn and stay engaged or could create an intellectually unsafe environment, thereby reducing the chances for learning. When we get triggered and feel unsafe, our brain can experience an amygdala hijack whereby we stop thinking with our frontal lobe and instead are functioning from our reptilian brain. This episode is most commonly referred to as fight, flight or freeze mode. Learning will not happen until we feel safe again. In that conversation, I was triggered and it was really important for me to recognize that I was offended by the “unsophisticated” term used. Equally important was for me to get more information to determine if I had a correct assessment of what this person was saying. As an educator, we must be mindful of the language and tone we use with our students in order to unintentionally avoid creating an unsafe environment.
Focus on What You Can Control- As I mentioned earlier, we cannot control much on the Camino. We can only control what we can directly change. On this journey the only thing I can control is how I respond to whatever is happening. If my knee hurts, what can I do to help it? If I’m hungry, let me sit and eat something. If I’m hot, let me find some shade to cool off. Keeping this attitude gives me peace of mind because I don’t worry about what is out of my control.
In education, we also have a limited locus of control. The only control we have is what we choose to do in our classroom during the school day with our students. We don’t have control after they leave school or before they arrive to school. Yes, it’s great knowing additional information about the time they’re not with us because we can use that knowledge to inform our actions. For example, the student who does not have books at home to read, I can lend them books from my class library to read at home, or the student who didn’t eat breakfast before coming to school, I can have a snack for them to eat at school. In the end, I can only control my actions/reactions but nothing else.
In many ways, each teacher is experiencing their own Camino. So to all my teacher friends I want to wish you a “Buen Camino.”