#YOY2016: My Year of Yes

RhimesLast January I watched a TED Talk given by Shonda Rhimes, writer, producer–you name it, she’s doing it–about her year of saying “yes” to everything that scared her. Ms. Rhimes says that saying “yes” to things that scared her, transformed both them and her.

It’s a powerful idea, and I decided that for 2016 I would be like Shonda and say “yes.” I didn’t make a big announcement but I did tell a few colleagues, and I made it clear to my children and students that my Year of Yes was mostly about professional requests. Sorry boys, no new dog named Jurgen.

Because of this commitment, I said “yes” to a few things that I might have passed on, not because they scared me, but because they sounded like more work than I really wanted, or they didn’t interest me, or it was a busy time of year (when isn’t it?). Things did get hectic, and I remember a colleague asking me if I’d gone a week without a professional development appointment. But I wasn’t as busy as many of the people I was saying “yes” to, and their examples pushed me when I was tempted to give it up.

Getting off the Back Burner

My first test came when the Oakland Writing Project chapter of the National Writing Project offered the opportunity to participate in a book study of Geneva Gay’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching, led by Richard Koch. It involved reading the book again as well as doing some reflection, and meeting with the group both in person and online.

Professional reading, a book study–I never find time for these. Like most teachers, I habitually skim and read professional material on teaching, education, writing, reading and so on. My desk has a pile devoted to “interesting stuff” I’m going to really dig into when I get a minute . . . this summer . . . someday. Gay’s book was buried in that pile, bookmarked, highlighted, forgotten.

Year of Yes, or YOY, made me dig it out and reread passages that I thought were worth thinking more about. I’d also committed to meeting with smart people and talking about Gay’s ideas, which meant I had to be prepared.

I’ve written before about Gay’s book and how it’s impacted me. But I’ll say again that the conversations around it have driven more of my decisions this year than anything else I’ve read.

These conversations weren’t pleasant. I’ve been confronting aspects of my practice that I’m not proud of. But I think that the conversations are making me a better teacher, and I wonder if perhaps the book was lingering on that pile because I didn’t want to think about the hard conversations I needed to have. Shonda, and the YOY, provided the push.

Saying Yes to a Big Project

Last April I was leading a small group of colleagues through a short workshop, which introduced the principles of Design Thinking. It went well, and one or two people suggested that we put together another one, this time for students. Good idea, but what’s that look like?

In a matter of a 30 minutes this energetic group decided that we should try an all-day deep dive into the Design Thinking experience for 70 staff and students off site–so a field trip–and that we do this in a month, before school let out and we lost our momentum.

I’d done some work coaching Design Thinking workshops in the summer, but I’d never planned one, and never been the lead presenter. And we had a really tight time frame.

But YOY meant I had to do it. We pitched the idea and got approval–was everyone else also in their YOY?–and through tremendous group effort we pulled it off. Seventy students and staff learned about Design Thinking and then, using what they learned, went into the community and redesigned the lunch experience for patrons of downtown Auburn Hills. Since then we’ve had two more workshops, and I turned over the lead presenter role to a member of that initial group. The conversations we’re having now are about how to grow this and sustain it.

I’m not sure I’d have done it if not for Shonda and our YOY.

So 2016, my Year of Yes, is over now. I’m not going to extend it and those are just two of the best takeaways. But I learned that when I took “no” off the menu, I tried more. And while I didn’t like all of it, I’m building from the new ingredients.

RICKRick Kreinbring (@kreinbring_rick) teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.