Who have you learned from today?
Teaching can not function properly in isolation; not for the student, curriculum or teacher. Teachers need to collaborate while still challenging each other. Sometimes that is hard to do. A school is very much like a family: you rarely get to choose who is in your department or in the larger context of the school. You can love the people you work with, you can enjoy them, but sometimes they don’t push you outside of your comfort zone. Families accept you as you are, and emotions can run high. Department structures are not always the best circumstance for innovation or change. Newer teachers need time to get their bearings and often adopt the pre-existing culture in order to survive in a new place. There are parts of that reality that are fantastic; acceptance and integration are important things. However, cynicism exists where professional development is concerned. It only takes a few unfocussed, poorly run or misinformed PD sessions to turn an already overwhelmed “new” teacher off the entire concept. I fear that too often that attitude is also learned behaviour, perpetuated by seasoned teachers comfortable in the routine of their kingdom, I mean, classroom.
There are fantastic pockets of passion and innovation in each school, if you just ask what is going on in others’ classrooms. I am perpetually amazed at what is happening within the WRDSB and the wealth of creativity and talent I meet at conferences, working groups and pilot projects. I am always horrified by how little of it we share en mass. So often our keynote speakers are external “experts” rather than leveraging our own expertise. In a world with seemingly endless communication though, it is possible to look beyond your brick and mortar schools to connect with other teachers. Breaking down the walls of the status quo is possible now to a degree inconceivable five years ago. If you need a different space to learn, it is certainly available to you.
I am no Pollyanna, it takes effort to create a community of learners. Time is one of our biggest enemies; being driven entirely by curriculum is another. I work in one of the oldest continually running schools in the country and revere tradition. Tradition should not be a synonym for feeling uncompelled to evolve when faced with change. We are all faced with change.
So what to do? Where to go? If you don’t have time to read a book… well then, online my friend, online.
Well, you are here, so maybe this is preaching to the choir. Many people are sharing their classroom victories and struggles in personal blogs. Look for them. Hearing authentic voices has such value.
Twitter has provided me the most consistent daily learning. I get teased about being addicted to my phone. Not true. I am addicted to the professional development it provides. Ten minutes here and there, and every day I have found a new resource or heard a new opinion. I eat that elephant one bite at a time: while walking the attendance down to the office, in lulls between classes, especially stuck in the grocery line. (It is illegal to read at stop lights, so I will pretend to be American and plead the fifth on that one!)
If you are frustrated with your daily practice, if connecting with the kids isn’t working and if you are not finding the innovation you need within your building, then look in a wider context. We expect our students to go beyond the bare minimum, to seek out an answer to their questions, to ask for help when they need it. Why should we be held to a lesser standard?
Consider the following starting points:
When you find a resource site look for online forums where people gather to post questions and engage in discussion, not just the premade “printables” online. Real people, in real conversation=real progress. Here are a few places to start looking. Please make recommendations in your comments– crowd sourcing is priceless.
I love Twitter– In any new environment, “lurk” until you get comfortable enough to post yourself. Follow me, follow people I follow, people they follow. Use the “Who to follow” feature with key words. If someone’s tweets are not serving you effectively– “unfollow” and keep looking. You don’t need to read EVERY tweet or every link. Consider it like skimming a newspaper. Check out hash tags like #edchat #ffpwrdsb #edreform #edu Twitter reminds me of my childhood choose-your-own-adventure books: each turn leads to a new opportunity and resource. I find it the web in its most intricate form.