“What do educators do to cultivate authentic, meaningful, and inspiring classroom communities?” This was the question I explored for my Integrative Master’s Project, notably known as the IMP. To better understand how I landed on this question, I would like to share the inspiration behind my culminating graduate work through a short vignette.
Rose, Bud, Thorn Inquiry
It is the end of another challenging day within the COVID-19 pandemic. I have spent my entire day in front of a computer screen, Zooming with my students and creating video content instruction during my breaks. Now it was time for my Bank Street conference group, once again, meeting virtually with my advisor and a small group of my peers. My seat in my studio apartment is unchanged, only the link to the Zoom meeting is new.
As the conference group arrives, our first task, done with consistent, ritualistic regularity, is an inquiry process called Rose, Bud, Thorn. What in the past week was a blossoming rose? What was a bud brimming with potential, or a prickly thorn? As the Zoom circle starts sharing their thoughts, I am filled with warmth and empathy for my peers. I feel heard and I feel my listening engaged. I feel that even though this experience is repeated each week, once the sharing begins, it is new, genuine, and vital.
So imagine my surprise when I began another educational engagement, and one of our first activities together was Rose, Bud, Thorn. I felt surprised by my own reaction. I felt cynical. It felt forced and manufactured; inorganic. I wondered why it was that during this particular time, Rose, Bud, Thorn inquiry felt so different? Why did I feel this way? What had changed? Over the next several months, I thought more critically about my experiences both as a teacher and learner. What were the ingredients that had transformed the same activity from magical to mediocre, from transformational to tragic?
From these contrasting experiences and my awareness of how connected and engaged or disconnected and disengaged I was, I found inspiration for my IMP. Striving to make sense of effective, powerful teaching became the backbone of my culminating graduate school project.
As I approached my final year at Bank Street, I knew I was interested in embarking on the independent study IMP option. This decision was fueled by my passion for professional growth, my deep sense of curiosity, and my desire to reflect on my teaching practices. I imagined that this project of my own choosing would allow me to dive deeper into my questions and find the answers I was seeking.
Over the course of two semesters, with support from my thesis advisor, Mimi Rosenberg, I conducted individual interviews with five experienced educators, all of whom had inspired me in some way. As I prepared for the interviews, I was curious to know what would be revealed when the participants were asked to reflect on their practices.
What happened as I began to join in conversation with my participants was a reformation of what were, in fact, the critical elements of strong teaching. The generosity of all five participants allowed me to gain a better sense of what their intentional practices that make up their classroom space were, whether that be virtual or in person.
And then, it happened: Through the interviews and the IMP process, I solidified the foundational elements of my own personal and philosophical grounding: maintaining relational teaching, finding and sustaining joy, and having respect for the learner(s). It all made sense: these are the three elements that support the essence of what I believe is needed to lead a powerful and sustained teaching practice.
My thesis advisor encouraged me to lean into moments of risk and supported my own process for navigating the journey of such a personal project. Completing my study was not a small feat. Moments of deep reflection allowed me to make sense of what I set out inquiring about. Working on my IMP over the course of my final year at Bank Street has been both affirming and also illuminating, and new light was being shed while I reconsidered positions I held. I started seeing my own pedagogy with clarity.
As a recent graduate of the Childhood General and Special Education Program, I move forward, aspiring to lead a practice where joy is welcome and nourished and profound respect helps relationships of trust form within my classroom communities. For those who have yet to embark on their IMP project, I wish you the kind of luck I had to choose something so deeply meaningful. And I would encourage you to consider the independent study IMP option if you, too, are looking for a creative and reflective path for personal and professional growth.