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Small Wins

The Monday after February vacation, we gathered in a teammate’s room for a curriculum meeting with our literacy specialist. She began by sharing a slide that read “Million Dollar Question: Are my efforts resulting in anything that matters?” I think everyone in the room probably had the same initial reaction…it doesn’t feel like it. Nonetheless, we were gently nudged to start making lists of the small wins that we’ve witnessed within the walls of our classroom. What effective teaching methods have I tried? What have students latched onto?

I thought about the learners in my room who began the year tearful every time they were met with a challenge. They are a bit more resilient now.

I thought about the learners who sat frozen and confused at their desks instead of asking for help. Now, they are the first ones to join small group on the days I offer an open invitation.

I also considered the glimmers of hope I am seeing across our workshop periods. Book clubs are finally starting to communicate more successfully. Writers are leaning on their partners more. Mathematicians are articulating their strategies more clearly.

Their muscles are a bit stronger.

The truth is, I’m struggling as a teacher right now. The pandemic and the demands of our work as educators is weighing on me more than ever in this moment. I know that if there is any hope for my continuation in this profession, I need to leave the building as soon as I am able. So, I do. When the children leave, I pack my bag. When the meeting is over, my lights are off. Then, I head home to take care of myself. I feel all the feelings. I laugh about that funny interaction with a student earlier in the day. I cry about the tough stuff I’m unpacking. I read. I exercise. I watch an episode (or three) of a favorite show. I celebrate my personal small wins.

Last January, I started building a home gym for a new workout program. By home gym, I mean all of the equipment that I pull out of the closet into our teeny living room – a bench, several sets of dumbbells, training sneakers, resistance bands, kettlebells. First small win…take action to gather what I need (even if it’s not exactly practical for a 700 square foot apartment). Then, I signed myself up for a 30 day challenge. Second small win…commit myself to something new. Next, I opened the app and struggled through the first darn workout. Yikes. Every subsequent workout was its own win. Third small win…prove to yourself that you are stronger than you think you are (perhaps this is actually a big win).

It’s been over a year since I took that leap. Tonight, I found myself reaching for heavier weights and stronger resistance bands. I noticed that an AMRAP set doesn’t feel as intimidating anymore. Instead of counting down to the last second, I can challenge myself to do a few extra reps. I acknowledged that with time and effort, I have developed more physical strength and confidence. I smiled as I recognized my growth. Do the students recognize theirs?

My emotional muscles need some attention right now, and I know that’s okay. I can think of some kiddos who are right alongside me in this need. We’ve been thinking about this as state testing approaches. Tomorrow, I’ll hope that my small wins at school include a bit more patience and a little more joy. I’ll aim to help the learners in our community see their own wins, too. They need that. Perhaps we’ll end our day by writing about one.

Published by Melissa Quimby

Melissa is a 4th grade teacher in Natick, Massachusetts. She can often be found with an iced coffee and middle grade novel in hand! Connect with her on Twitter & Instagram - @QUIMBYnotRamona.

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