If you take one fact from this post, let it be this. I have a favorite punctuation mark. While polarizing, I personally like the way the “scare quote” stretches the possible interpretations of words on a page. Plus, incorrectly-used scare quotes are common and laugh out loud funny. Next up for debate:
Or we can move to this month’s faculty book club. We are scheduled to meet once per interim, though we’re still rebuilding this year after several years of COVID restrictions. The most recent faculty “book” club had a rebranding, a 34 minute podcast rather than a shared book. This seems fitting as the former sponsor of my school’s “no reading required” book club. Students who liked books gathered together each month to discuss books in a specific genre even if they had been too busy (or “too busy”) to read that month.
The podcast for our faculty book club was Simon Sinek’s Bit of Optimism interview with Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a clinical psychologist whose work researches the evolutionary reasons for anxiety. Rather than pathologizing all anxiety, she reframes it as an emotion that can help us prepare for an uncertain future. Like many schools, our students seem more anxious than in past years and less comfortable knowing how to handle that discomfort on their own. Dennis-Tiwary believes there is value in going through these anxious feelings, emotions that are on a continuum with excitement, rather than trying to minimize or avoid them. Her specific suggestion is to follow the 3 L’s: Listen, Leverage, and Let Go. If this is an idea that intrigues you, here is her interview with Sinek on “The Wisdom of Anxiety” and a link to her book Future Tense: Why anxiety is good for you (even though it feels bad).
The book club averages 12-15 members, about 10 of whom come regularly. Looking around at some new faces this meeting, we started with a question unrelated to the subject at hand. “Did you come for the topic we are discussing or for shared discussion with your colleagues?” The regulars all said they were interested in discussions on any subject, while the several newer participants indicated that the topic of managing anxiety in a more productive way was interesting both personally and as an educator. More importantly, the shorter time commitment, audio format, and universal free availability increased participation. Most importantly, 34 minutes of content provided far more than we could discuss in an hour! We didn’t need an entire book!
While I make a discussion guide for each meeting as a part of my parsing of material, we tend to let conversations roll more naturally from topic to topic. Everyone is familiar with anxiety and with trying to comfort anxious students. We brought our own experiences and talked about what anxieties look like to children at various ages. What do we do as teachers (and parents) as students move from childhood anxieties like thunderstorms to teen anxieties about college admissions? How can we build on the idea of community and service, and thus a connected identity of community service?
So many meetings are focused on next steps forward and decision making. An afterschool “meeting” sounds less fun than an afterschool “club.” Sometimes we need a time to discuss our concerns or formulate new ideas in a more casual, low-stakes environment; a time to come together with donuts and laughter and thoughtful conversation; a time to think of our colleagues not just as math or English teachers, but as teammates (or parents or friends) who ask the same questions as we meander together without needing one “answer.”