Jellyfish and Teachers
How are teachers and jellyfish alike? There are surprising parallels, according to Fernan STEM Academy Title 1 Reading Specialist Shelby Randklev, the Coeur d’Alene School District's 2017 Teacher of the Year. Shelby spoke recently to a group of teachers new to our district at a special reception hosted by the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce. Read her inspiring words here.
By Shelby Randklev, Fernan STEM Academy Title 1 Reading Specialist
When I woke up this morning I started my day, as usual, with the typical morning rush hour. I have two little boys, 4 and 2 years old. Before we left, my 4-year-old said, “Mommy, you are going to have a great day because you look like a jellyfish!” I was wearing a gray shawl with the little strings that hang off the bottom. I said, “You know what bud, I kind of do look like a jellyfish.” So in the car we talked about all the cool things we know about jellyfish and we talked about being awesome today, just like jellyfish. We were being silly and saying we were going to channel our “inner jellyfish” and have “jellyfish powers” and rock the day! (You know, the silly parent stuff you do to encourage your kids to start the day in a positive way and behave at school.)
As the day continued I could not get that out of my head. As I reflected, I questioned what do I even know about jellyfish and what connections can I possibly make? When I was looking up jellyfish attributes I came across this quote: Trying to make order out of my life is like trying to pick up a jellyfish. I instantly connected: It's October, and holy cow, teaching is difficult right now. It seems impossible at times, shocking, and sometimes teaching feels this way. Have you ever picked up a jellyfish and it melts right through your fingers? Teaching can definitely seem like this. I can relate.
Those who know me know that my perspective is always very positive – sometimes to a fault and a bit annoying at times – but sometimes it is important to think: How can I see this in a different way? It is important to look through a different lens when things get difficult. As I continued, the perspective I choose to connect with is: When you move like a jellyfish, you go with the flow and you don’t stop! This makes sense to me.
So what do I know about jellyfish and what connections can I make between them and teaching?
I know that jellyfish are flexible and fragile. Teachers can be like this, and so can our students. One thing I do know as a teacher is that we need to be flexible to meet the needs of all students. It is critical to meet students where they are at, instead of them adapting to meet our needs. If we do this we create a culture where students feel respected, valued and safe to think, explore and make mistakes.
I know that sometimes jellyfish seem invisible, see-through and unnoticed. As teachers, we may feel invisible at times, especially as a new teacher. I am here to tell you, we notice you. We need you! Have the confidence to be a lifelong learner, but also empowered to share your new ideas and discover what works for you and your students instead of what is working for the other classroom teacher down the hall. We need your thoughts, ideas and energy. Continue to always be a lifelong learner, exploring, challenging yourself and doing that little extra that is going to make you better than before.
I know that jellyfish may seem to have small movements and may move forward and then back with the tide or a big wave. This could be daunting, but I know they are resilient, don’t give up and never stop moving. As teachers, we sometimes wonder if what we are doing is even working. It is hard, and we may feel like we get washed away at times by the huge “ocean” in front of us. Take things one small movement at a time. Set achievable goals, and once you feel you are almost there, add that one more thing that will push you forward.
Another thing I know is that jellyfish can be very powerful. Some jellyfish may seem small, yet have a powerful sting. In teaching, some moments may seem small but end up being the most powerful thing in that student’s eyes. Take time for the small moments, it is truly powerful!
Now I realize that jellyfish and teachers have some similarities, and when we as teachers do all of these things, that is us doing what is best for kids. This is a statement I say often and live and breathe by. I am constantly reflecting on if what we are doing is best for kids. Sometimes there are so many things on our plates and so many pressures put upon us as teachers that we need to step back and really think about what we are doing and if it’s best for kids.
Teachers can do anything, even find connections between a darn jellyfish and teaching! This was not my original plan for this essay, but things change, we adapt and things work out in ways we least expect. But I did not make these connections alone. It took focusing on that small moment with my kids, and I used the amazing teachers around me as thought partners.
This leads me to the most critical component of doing what is best for kids: We as educators know and embrace that we are not alone; we are a team. We need to build each other up, take the time to collaborate and share ideas, celebrate successes, learn together from our failures, and use each other as springboards from which to grow. We are a family and help one another improve more than we ever thought we could. Our students and colleagues see this, and together we are igniting a fire that can never burn out.
We all have amazing qualities to be shared. Embrace one another, learn from one another, and use it to drive your desire to improve student learning. Let's work together to build dynamic learning communities to engage students, promote deep understanding, and sustain a lifetime of inquiry. Let’s create voracious learners who constantly challenge themselves and others to become better than before, even when the tide takes us back every now and then.