Jenny Hill, Ed.D., loves "cheering for people who are on the same journey."
The St. Michael Elementary School Media Specialist's session entitled, "Love, See, Teach!" focused on ways professionals who work with students can identify why they love to work within a learning community and can more fully connect to students each day.
The challenges—and successes—are real
As a teacher, Hill is honest and recognizes that working in a school is not always easy. “We are fragmented and busy. We have many challenges and decisions to make every single day,” she says. “Sometimes we need encouragement from each other and a reminder of our mission.”
In her session, Hill used journaling, reflection time, and sharing to achieve three goals. First, she wanted participants to reflect on their career choice and work purpose. She asked, “How might you love your students well within your own unique job context?” Hill believes that each person who works in a school has something special to offer, uniquely expressed by how they do their job each day. That expression may be in how they serve lunch, keep the building clean, or improve student reading.
Hill’s second goal was to have participants become aware of ways they notice and acknowledge their students each day. One small but important way educators notice students is by learning and regularly using their names. While challenging for specialists who work with large groups of students, Hill says looking students in the eyes and saying their name aloud conveys the message “I see you” and invites deeper connection in a subtle way.
Finally, Hill encouraged participants to be authentic and allow themselves to be seen as real people. “Sometimes in order to see students, we need to first let them see us.” Hill says that when adults show vulnerability to students, they are wise to “use it like a strong spice in cooking. It is an important ingredient but needs to be used in measured amounts.”
Vulnerability as a strong spice
Hill, who has cerebral palsy, relayed a time when she shared her own vulnerabilities with students, so they might gain a fuller understanding of her. One of Hill’s students was limping, so some students in her class began to say, “Now he’s like you!” Hill responded by saying, “You’re right.” and sat down to show her class her leg brace. She allowed the students to ask questions about why she wore the brace and how it helped support her. By being authentic, Hill was able to lead her students to understand her in a new way. They, in turn, helped Hill feel thankful for the opportunity to talk about who she really is. She feels the moment was a good example of how educators could allow themselves to really be seen by students.
Hill notes this kind of transactional exchange is essential in education and helps teach relationship-building skills, which are needed now more than ever as everyone spends a lot of time with screens and devices. “Human connection is endangered in every way today,” Hill says.“I want to teach STEM skills, but I also want to teach about the value of interpersonal interactions.”
Always on the grow
Hill enjoys witnessing growth in herself, students, colleagues, and co-workers, and she knows that growth is a cycle that involves struggle and perseverance before success. Being part of this transformational process is one of the reasons Hill decided to become a teacher. Growth inspires her work and motivates her to help others gain renewed energy in their careers.
She came to understand the “why” behind her own career choice through many channels, but in particular at a retreat where educators had the opportunity to read, reflect on, and discuss poetry. One of the poems that most inspired Hill is David Whyte’s Loaves and Fishes:
This is not
the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
Hill is committed to that one good word as she
continues to love what she does, see, teach,
Hill is committed to that one good word as she continues to love what she does, see, teach, and grow.
Resource's 2019 Education Support Professionals Conference will be on Wednesday, August 28. The event will feature presenters like Hill to help those who work with students be the very best at what they do.
More about Jenny
Hill is a 2013 WCCO Excellent Educator Awardee and author of Walking with Tension, a book about spirituality and Hill's journey with cerebral palsy. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter.