Category: Student Success (ISLLC 3)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by ensuring management of the organization, operations, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment.

“Yet” & The Language Of Opportunity

I recently heard a story about two shoe salesmen who were sent to the same small, remote village in an attempt to sell shoes.

The first salesman returned and told his colleagues that there was no opportunity to sell shoes in that village because none of the villagers wore shoes.

The second salesman returned and told his colleagues that there was tremendous opportunity because none of the villagers owned shoes, yet.

The distinction between the two salesmen’s perceptions, and the language they each used to describe those perceptions, solidified two very different pathways.

The first salesman denied himself opportunity. He closed a door.  He stymied potential.

The second salesman created opportunity on the basis of the same challenge the first salesman faced. By articulating his perception in a positive and progressive way he opened the same door that the first salesman closed.

Like the second salesman, we can each employ a positive and progressive view of the world to expand opportunity and amplify potential.

When we choose a negative and stagnant view of the world we limit opportunity and stifle potential, for ourselves and for those around us.

I would argue that this equation is true of the challenges we face on a daily basis as parents and educators.

The word “yet” is critical in our ability to positively impact each child’s unique pathway to wellbeing and achievement.

The very nature of learning and growth tells us that children will demonstrate limited ability before they are given the modeling, the tools, the strategies, the practice, and the experiences that subsequently lead them to demonstrate ability in the same areas where it once seemed limited.  They each need, and are hungry for hope, inspiration, and experience.

The very nature of learning and growth tells us that we must always cling to a foundation of potential over and above one of defeat.

As we guide and nurture the potential of each child in our care, we must always keep “yet” in mind. We must always speak the language of opportunity.

We must always perceive and believe that growth is seamless, no matter the rate or frequency of its visibility.

The road is long and winding. Moreover, it is unique for every individual.

As parents and educators we must always trust in progress over and above end points.

As parents and educators we must never define the children we serve according to any moment in time, but rather according to the continuum that we know unfolds over time, with kindness, hope, and an undying resolve for the ever-unfolding and limitless potential that exists within each of them, and within each of us.

We must face each challenge with the knowledge that there is a pathway for it to be it to be resolved, and where we encounter roadblocks we must tirelessly seek alternative pathways.

I, for one, have a long way to go in understanding how to meet the needs of every child I serve. Nevertheless, I firmly believe, and have experienced time and again, that the language of potential, with the word “yet” and as a reminder, provides for and builds upon hope and inspiration at every turn.

I believe that a positive and progressive worldview with limitless potential for learning, growth, and opportunity at the center is the way forward.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The Perfect Lie

Sometimes I tell my kids, “That’s perfect!”

Sometimes I tell them, “Nothing’s perfect.”

My son caught me in the perfect lie the other day.

We needed to get out of the house. He was drawing a picture. He was in one of those moods during which he becomes overwhelmed by a visceral need to “get it right” before moving on. I know the feeling. I understand that this need can be problematic, in part because there often seem to be no “getting it right,” maybe especially for those of us who feel the need in that way (viscerally).

I wonder if those who don’t feel the need to “get it right” all the time are actually “getting it right” by thinking that “not quite right” is in fact “right,” on the premise (as Carol Dweck wrote in her book Mindset) that “becoming is better than being.” Ironically, I genuinely believe that’s “right.”

Regardless, I’m thinking there might be some apple and tree stuff going on here, which is beside the point, other than to suggest that I was confident our hero wouldn’t shift his attention to whatever pressing play-date or junior athletic need was looming, until the drawing looked like whatever he was tying to make it look like.

So, after exercising what I considered a good deal of patience I exclaimed, “That’s perfect!”

He smiled, put down his crayons, and off we went.

A few days later he was back at it. This time, we had nowhere to go and nothing else to do. I was excited that he was taking his time. I was present with him in that moment. I was in awe of his racing, creative mind. I didn’t want him to be stifled by the perfect lie. My motivation had changed.

He got frustrated. He wasn’t “getting it right.”

This time, in a sincere effort to help him get unstuck and shed some frustration I told him, “Nothing’s perfect.”

He looked at me with a crinkled face. He asked, “Then why did you tell me that my drawing was perfect before?”

Oops. I forgot that they don’t forget a thing.

Carol Dweck would be ashamed of me.

I suppose I could have explained that sometimes adults mislead kids when we’re trying to get them to do things the way we want them to, but that didn’t seem sensible. How would he ever trust me again? I was in a pickle (figuratively).

I told him that I shouldn’t have said it. I told him that one of the greatest things about life is that we’re always learning and that there’s always room to grow. I exposed my manipulative ways and revealed that the other day I was trying to get him to move more quickly. He smiled. He got me. It brought him joy. I was happy to help.

I thought about how easy it is for me to utter a tiny falsehood or a harmless misrepresentation to my children when it seems to serve my purpose. I found myself wrestling with the idea. I certainly can’t be the only parent who misinforms his kids from time to time. I tell myself that it’s for their good when I do it. That should count for something. The intention is there. Am I misleading myself? This reflective pathway is wrought with irony.

It’s not like I’m telling him that the earth is flat, of that pigs can fly, or that spinach tastes good.

However, it strikes me that the perfect like could actually be whopper if I’m not careful with it. What if he develops a fixed mindset? Then I’d be sorry.

I once read about a Native American folk tradition set on the foundation that no human being is, or can produce anything “perfect.” Within this tradition was the practice of purposefully leaving flaws in artwork; woven blankets with loose strings or off pattern colors, carvings that might be unbalanced or disproportionate, etc.

The idea being that life is a process and not a product. That the aim should not be to achieve perfection in any given moment, but to keep moving forward, learning all the while, and seeing evolved outcomes unfold along the unique and wondrous pathways we each tread.

I was caught in the perfect lie, and I’m glad of it. I may be better off. I’m thinking that being caught and reflecting on the experience might even enhance my ability to parent in a growth-mindset oriented way. It could help me help my kids live enhanced journies by instilling in them an enthusiasm for things like “becoming” and “beyond” instead of “finished,” “perfect,” or “right,” and that seems right. Right (you know what I mean)?

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Fresh-Made, Real-World Creative Play Rules!

When I came home the other day my five-year-old approached me immediately and with a focused urgency. He had no time to waste.

Bolstering a sizable orange at the end of his outstretched arm he asked, “Daddy, is this an orange?”

No greeting, no hug, just the question.

As I mentioned, it was an orange, and for that reason I answered, “It sure is Bud.”

Off he went.

I didn’t think much of it. Goofiness runs deep in our family. Here he was being goofy, par for the course.

No sooner did I drop my keys and loosen my tie when he was standing in front of me again, with a different orange at the end of the same outstretched arm. Different orange; same arm.

Now I began to wonder. Not so much about what he was up to, but how much effort it would take to clean up after this exploration.

“Daddy,” he asked again, “is this an orange?”

“It sure is, Bud.” My brow was furrowed at this point. He smiled. I smiled (on the outside at first, and subsequently on the inside, realizing that regardless of the insuring mess, this could be a moment that might become a cherished memory, and I sure do love those moments).

This time I shadowed the big guy into our kitchen, where sure enough I found subjugated orange parts strewn about the island countertop, encircling a small plastic cup with maybe a quarter once of juice inside it, and possibly two or three ounces under and nearby it.

Now, his smile was huge; super proud juicer in action.

He looked up and shouted, “Fresh-made orange juice…just ten dollars!”

I am a sucker for fresh-made orange juice, but that price was outrageous!

He enlisted the help of his two-year-old brother for sales while his seven-year-old brother and his three-year-old sister ran upstairs to get their piggy banks.

Over the course of the next two hours, the fresh-made, real-world play was energized and stimulating. After very quickly running out of fresh-made orange juice (little brother was thirsty) the team decided to fill what seemed to be about dozen cups with fresh-made water; much more accessible.

It went for ten dollars without a straw and eleven dollars with a straw. Ice was complimentary.

When the fresh made water well ran dry they turned to toys, buy on get one free. What seem to be hundreds of them laid out on various surfaces around the living room.

My daughter took advantage of this outstanding opportunity by filling a partially empty diaper box with sale items, digging her way underneath them, and working hard for some time to close herself and her bounty in the box. She wasn’t playing with the toys; she was playing WITH the toys. It was a spectacularly interesting sight to see. She’s strong willed; get’s it from her mother; serves them both well.

Our little big guy found a dragon puppet and set off engaged in a ventriloquist-style conversation for the remainder of the evening.

The school-age brothers worked hard at keeping shop. They even drew about and wrote about the experience, creating marketing pieces and making business plans. It was an engaging, fun, thinking and learning experience for each one of these kids ranging from two to seven-years old (not to mention me at forty three).

I realized, as I do each time I support and celebrate fresh-made, real-world creative play, that kids love it. Even fifteen minutes after bedtime routines were supposed to begin they were crying for more. I had to drag them upstairs kicking and screaming.

At no time did they talk about or ask for television or any device, and at no point did they disengage or complain of being bored.

So, in reflection I developed a set of very simple rules for adults interested in encouraging fresh-made real-world creative play:

  1. Listen & respond
  2. Celebrate, encourage, participate, & enjoy
  3. Extend & integrate

At home or at school, fresh-made, real-world creative play initiated on the foundation of kids’ interests can be exciting and meaningful, it can promote thinking, doing, and learning across subject matter and curricular areas, it can provide kids with hours of fun, social, and enriching opportunities, and by the way…no screen is required.

In conclusion, I’m going double entendre by once again suggesting: Fresh-Made, Real-World Creative Play Rules!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

When I Need You Most

An open letter from every kid to every adult in our lives:

Please be there when I need you most.

I don’t always make good decisions. Please remember that I don’t always understand how. I don’t always have the tools, the skills, or the experience. I don’t intend to upset or frustrate you with my decisions, my words, or my actions; in fact, I’d like you to be proud of me. I’d like to always say and do things that cause you to celebrate and want to be around me. I just don’t always know how to make that happen. Yet.

I’m learning how to communicate with every experience and every interaction. I need your help. I need your support. I need your understanding. I need your forgiveness. I need your compassion.

I’m learning how to understand and attend to my feelings. Sometimes when I’m mad I say things that make me sound mean. I’m not mean, I just don’t always know how to ask for the kind of help I need, and as a result, I sometimes act mean just so that you know I’m mad.

I might even say that I hate you from time to time. I don’t. It’s just that I don’t always have the strength or the wherewithal to simply say, “I’m mad…and here’s why.” I wish I did. Frankly, showing my anger in negative ways doesn’t feel good. Believe it or not, it frustrates me. Sometimes it makes me feel even madder, and often times, sadder. Ironic, isn’t it.

It’s the same with all of my emotions. I just don’t have the life experience to regulate or restore them to a place of focus and calm all the time.

I’m a kid. I’ve only been alive for a few years, and I’ve only had the ability to interact with people in verbal ways for a few of those few years. At first, and for some time, I needed you to do and provide everything for me. Even now, I’m just learning how to do some it for myself.

To add a layer of complexity, confusion, and challenge, I’ll be learning that for quite some time. Please be there for me as I do. Please have patience with me along the way.

Mine is a nuanced path, one that will unfold along a zigzagging line, curiously unique to who I am and what I’m made of, with some categorical predictors peppered in, and a multitude of staggeringly surprising twists and turns at many points along the way, some magnificent and some distressing.

Read the articles and the books, talk and listen to one another with open minds and open hearts, and please always remember that there is no one right way. If you keep your eyes open and reflect through a learning lens, you’ll see that being there for me might mean something different in each passing moment. You’ll discover that there’s no static formula for supporting the safe and positive growth of a kid, but rather that, with some fundamental parameters, each one of us is bit different, with a bit different needs.

I might be sad for silly reasons. I might be silly for sad reasons. Regardless, it’s not “no big deal,” and I can’t “just get over it.” I need to process it. I need your help.

I need to know that taking a break can calm me down, and that being hungry or tired put’s me on edge, and that sharing my toys can actually make playing with them more fun, and that it’s ok to want to be alone sometimes, and that it’s even ok to go ahead and be alone when that want surfaces, and that saying, “thank you,” feels really good, and that meaning it feels really great, and that I don’t need to try to be like someone else, and that when I work hard to make sure I’m only trying to be like myself, no matter what people say, they’ll probably actually start trying to be like me, and that words matter, and tone reveals, and actions demonstrate, and that along with mattering, words land on people’s hearts, and that hearts are sometimes fragile, and that while it takes time for hearts to heal from unkind words, it’s possible, and that relentless, extended and ongoing kindness is a great way to care for a healing heart, and that I’m actually the best of what I have to offer, not the worst, and that mistakes are good things, and that when I embrace them they help me grow, and so much more; so much more that I need to know, to see modeled, and to practice over and over.

Please, please be patience with me along the way. Please see me for who I am. Please be firm and consistent with me, but please define and recognize me as my best and not my worst. Please share your faith in me with one another and support one another in maintaining that there is nothing but hope for me, and that I am to be celebrated and not diminished.

I will continue to test you and to try your patience, but I will also continue to amaze and overwhelm you with awe, wonder, and joy.

Please be there when I need you most. I know you can. I need you to.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

I Am Here To…

I am a principal. That means I serve a community of people who function on the premise that all children can learn at high levels, and that through genuine and positive partnerships with those I serve, that I can support the children of my school community in safe, joyful, and consistent growth.

I have principles. That means I believe in certain things. It means I believe in them so much that they are embedded in my core, and that they surface in various forms through my thinking, decision-making, and actions.

Among those principles is the notion that they (the principles) should drive how I attend to my charge, and the notion that they should be, and always remain at least somewhat fluid. Who knows what I’ll experience next and how if might shift my worldview.

Based on a solid foundation of the where I’ve been, what I’m learning, who I am, and who I’m becoming, I believe that an open-minded outlook on the possibilities is essential for positive progress.

While principles should be bedrocks, time, along with other powerful forces, tends to shift even the sturdiest structures. For that reason I think we must be as steadfast in our resolve to maintain a principled center as we are in our openness to listen to and move with the winds of change.

Some principles are pretty standard. Kindness, gratitude, generosity, humility, faith, curiosity, reflectiveness, and more are likely not to move out of the principle bank that contributes to my learning and leadership. I can’t imagine a time when I discover that it’s actually not best to be kind, gracious, generous, humble, faithful, curious, reflective, and more. That’s not to say that I always measure up to those principles. The good news is that I hold mistake-driven growth as among the “more.” Falling down gives you opportunities to practice getting up; it’s a good thing.

So much happens each day in my life as a principal. The range of events, interactions, and emotions is extraordinary at times. I suspect it’s that way for many people and in many roles. It certainly is in my role as a parent as well.

With a focus on the core principles that guide me, I am able to navigate the extraordinary range of which I speak, relatively unscathed and with the mission in mind. If I can understand and articulate why I am here in any given moment, I can remain balanced and grounded.

I am here to serve kids & to learn along the way. I am here to model and share hope. I am here to be inspired and to inspire others when I can. I am here to take pride in myself and to be proud of those around me. I am here to model a positive, growth mindset and to share the tools and strategies I use in doing so. I am here to embrace and celebrate diversity. I am here to listen and I am here to lead. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start and it’s a reminder.

Where are you? Why are you there?

Taking a moment to draw out your reasons and principles that support your journey can help to center you and steady your course. If you have that moment, give it a try. It might not help, but I’d suggest a strong likelihood that it won’t hurt.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Not On The Inside…And It’s OK

It’s all about perspective.

The other day my five-year-old asked me why it’s been so long since we took a trip to 7-Eleven.

I told him we don’t go as much in the winder because we tend to like to get Slurpee’s, and that Slurpee’s are better in the warm weather.

I told him we don’t go as much in the winter because it’s cold.

He said, “Not on the inside!”

Good Point.

When we frame things in ways that work for us, worlds of possibilities open up, even beyond Slurpees in the winter.

Specifically, when we frame things with learning and growth in mind, even our stumbles turn into opportunities for progress.

As parents and educators, this could be a good message for the kids we serve.

It’s ok to want a Slurpee in the winter. You can drink it inside.

Similarly, it’s ok…

…if you’re sad, nervous, or angry. You can take a deep breath, reflect on those feeling and use the tools and strategies you know to restore to a place of calm, focus, and even joyfulness.

…if you don’t know about strategies to restore. You can learn them.

…if you get it wrong. You can practice. You will still get it wrong sometimes, but if you remember that each time you do is an opportunity for growth, you’ll be fine.

…if you fall. You can get back up.

…if you fail. You can try again.

…if you’re afraid. You can use courage.

I’ll bet you can extend that list exponentially.

I say try, and then help the kids you serve understand that there’s always a creative solution to the challenges they face, and that it’s ok (and important) to think creatively about those solutions along the way.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Booger Boy and The Big Bad Nostril in “The Quest For Courage”

E.E. Cumming wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Ain’t that the truth.

The other day my two oldest boys (7 and 5 years old) told me about a story they were collaborating on. Jolts of delight visibly swirled in their minds and shot light laser beams from their inspired eyes as they revealed the idea.

The story was being constructed on the premise that a kid had realized his super powers in the form of an ability to project boogers from his fingertips. Gooey boogers, crispy boogers, boogers in any state needed for any given challenge.

Appropriately, Booger Boy is the kid’s name.

The Big Bad Nostril is the kid’s nemesis (appropriately, too).

The boys explained that The Big Bad Nostril has the power to blow so hard (out of his nostrils) that he can fly. Booger boy can use crispy boogers to knock him down and gooey boogers to stuff his nostrils so full that his flying powers are nullified.

Gross? Yes.

Creative, connected, and meaningful? Possibly yes, too.

Who is Booger Boy in the mind of a 7 or 5 year old? Who or what is The Big Bad Nostril?

What does it take for a child to understand the super powers in his or her own arsenal?

What does it take for a child to employ those super powers as needed?

Courage? I think so.

Just before I reminded my boys only to write and talk about Booger Boy and the Big Bad Nostril at home, and not at school, I found some courage of my own, and then I stopped myself.

This line of creative thinking might be a connected source of development regarding their own superpowers, and their ability to use them.

What if they’re figuring out how to be brave?

What if they’re digging into the source of their courage and unfolding pathways to practice overcoming challenges?

What if one of them is Booger Boy?

What they both are?

What the Big Bad Nostril needs to be addressed?

What if this is the boys’ way of getting at it?

What if this is an inspired story that deserves to be written?

What if the development of this story is a part of the process that has my boys growing into confident writers, independent thinkers, self-assured storytellers, reflective dreamers, and courageous seekers of tools and strategies designed to help them face and overcome any number of the inevitable challenges that they will each encounter over the course of their lives?

What if giving way to my hesitation, as founded by my perhaps baseless concern over the potential trouble these two unsuspecting young authors could face over the public exploration of this subject matter, is a super power in and of itself?

What if facing a bit of potential trouble over their creative thinking and expression might enlist just the courage they need to persist in true and brave ways?

What if?

It does take courage to grow up and become who you really are. I know this because I still need it at every turn; closer and closer each day, and still needing courage along the way.

Note to self: Be brave, and teach your children the same.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Keep Me

The Story. My daughter got new socks the other day. She’s three years old. New socks are nice for me. They’re super-awesome for a three-year-old!

These new socks have stripes on them. Stripes are super-awesome too.

Before we could leave the house yesterday, she insisted that I find her new socks. It was a really big deal. An adventure. Where could they be? Oh my, what if we couldn’t find them?

I had an idea…the sock drawer. Why don’t we check in the sock drawer? So we did.

Up the stairs we went, hand in hand, step by step, a pair of sock hunters; nervous, excited, eager with anticipation, and extremely hopeful. So hopeful we looked at each other and laughed a few times along the way.

Her hope was that the socks would be found so that she could wear them and show off her stripes. My hope was that the socks would be found so that we could reduce the excruciatingly extensive preparation-for-leaving-the-house process by even a few moments. It’s also fun to see her so animated and joyful.

At first glance she didn’t see them, but I did. Her face shifted from jubilant to distressed.

“There’re not here!” She shouted with the sharp agony of defeat.

I reached in. I pulled them out slowly. I smiled. I placed them in her tiny, eager, and outstretched hands. She beamed.

Again she shouted. This time, “Daddy…you found them…you found my new socks…see the stripes!”

I did see the stripes. They were super-awesome. I told her.

Then, she threw her arms around me and said, “You’re a good, Daddy…I think I should keep you.”

I was really glad to hear it.

The Point. Simple things can be really powerful too, the challenges and the triumphs. As parents and educators we mustn’t overlook the awe or the wonder with which kids move through this world. Everything is relatively new for them.

They need us, not only to guide them, but also to celebrate with them, even when we’re celebrating finding a pair of brand new stripped socks.

There are so many things we want to show and teach them, so many important things we feel we need for them to learn and demonstrate. It seems to me, the more we follow their lead the better able we are able to support each of their individual pathways to whatever it is they are each becoming.

The more we share in their excitement and rejoice in their happiness, the more connected we become, and the better we are able to serve them through the twists and turns we will inevitably face together along the way.

I’m glad that finding a pair of socks makes me a “good daddy,” because sometimes that’s about all I got sometimes, and I’m really glad that she thinks she should keep me, because I most certainly want to be kept.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

Strong Like Me

strength

I exercise. My doctor told me to. More specifically, he told me to eat less and move more. It’s good advice. So I do.

Anyway, sometimes my kids exercise along with me. In particular, my five-year-old son imitates every move I make during my daily routine. He grabs hold of my resistance band as soon as it leaves my hands, he pumps his arms up and down with a gritty growl and a stiffly crinkled face, almost masking the glowing smile plastered on it (but not quite).

He’s thrilled to do it. He drops down for push-ups and sit-ups. He stretches and runs in place, and he breathes deeply through it all.

Then, he looks up at me with a profound and piercing pride and exclaims, “Look daddy, I’m strong like you!”

Strong like me. Indeed.

The kid will no doubt face his own challenges, and those challenges will test and teach him, however, even with life’s innate guidance along the way, he will continue to look to me as a model of strength (and/or weakness), whether he knows it or not. It’s part of the deal with kids and parents. They observe what we do through critically reflective lenses.

They do the same with all influential adults in their lives. They’ve got eyes on grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc. Therefore, it’s equally important that we relentlessly consider what we do through critically reflective lenses as well.

Strong like me.

He’s built how he’s built. He’ll have the capacity to endure his amount of struggle and tolerate his amount ache, but he’s actively seeking to be strong like me.

An awesome responsibility, and one that gives me pause to think about what kind of strong I am, and what kind of strong I’m capable of being.

Am I strong enough to truly learn from mistakes?

Am I strong enough to check and regulate myself emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually through any and all challenges?

Am I strong enough restore myself to a place of focus and calm when I’m not?

Am I strong enough to hold back from crying when it isn’t really that bad?

Am I strong enough not to when it is?

Am I strong enough to hold on?

Am I strong enough to let go?

Am I strong enough to restrain my strength?

Am I strong enough to unleash it?

Am I strong enough to understand the type of strength I would have my children develop if I could simply will it into them?

Am I strong enough to continuously work toward that understanding with every breath and every step along my journey?

I happen to believe that among the greatest strengths we can possess is the strength to persist.

Linus reminds Charlie brown, “It’s the courage to continue that counts,” not only because of a connection to comedic irony within the context of their Peanuts adventures, but also because there’s some important truth to it. At the very least, it’s worth considering.

Parents, educators, leaders, adults of all sorts, what kind of strong are you? What kind of strength are you modeling for the benifit the children you serve?

When I think of my children becoming strong like me I don’t think of them running long distances or lifting heavy weights.

When I think of a strength legacy I prefer to think that my children, and all of the children I serve, will ever-increasingly have the strength to persists through ever-increasing odds, be they physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or otherwise, and that something I’ve done, or will have done, will meaningfully impact that strength in them, even if only vaguely.

While I relentlessly fear the real and human possibility that I could fail in that mission, the fear is balanced by an equally relentless internal assurance that I will never give up trying not to.

Strong like me.

I’m continuously learning, growing, and hoping to one day understand exactly what that means for the incredible children I serve, and how I can contribute every bit of myself to the effort of making it so.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep on my way with hope, faith, and all the strength I can muster.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

And I Quote: Meeting Teachers In Their Classrooms As A Foundation For Professional Learning

Meeting Learners in Their Space

Professional learning in school communities is unquestionably a complex and challenging concept to attend to. Teachers, like all learners, are wide ranging in their interests, their developmental pathways, their learning styles, and their capacity to engage on any given day and in any given setting. There is no standard that works for everyone (at least I haven’t come across it).

Some adult learners require movement and interaction to stay connected while others prefer to stay put, listen, and take notes. Some want to generate thoughts and ideas through a process of individual and collaborative brainstorming, exploration, and critical thinking, while others prefer to have information delivered to them. Even so, dynamic lecturers can transform the traditional “sit and get” experience into vibrant and engaging opportunities for rich, meaningful, and connected learning, and effective group facilitators can draw enthusiastic participation out of the most reluctant collaborators.

As school administrators and professional learning teams consider reflective systems and structures such as Camburn’s three phase reflective process, Gladwell and DiCamillo’s professional dyads, and/or Purcell’s “post class reflective notes,” we must also consider connected and meaningful content. How do we get at learning that truly drives individual and collaborative progress and effectively impacts student wellbeing and achievement in authentically positive ways?

Of comprehensive school reform (CSR) programs, Camburn warns, “if we wish to develop a fuller understanding of how teachers’ work experiences support the development of their practice, it is useful to look beyond their participation in traditional staff development and consider a broader array of experiences” (p. 464). He further clarifies by suggesting, “knowledge about teaching that is acquired in teachers’ immediate work context (their classrooms and the larger school organization) may be more readily applied than knowledge acquired outside that context” (p. 466). A suggestion that connects directly to the “try it out, mull it over, and critically evaluate it” professional learning triangle he points to as scaffolding for genuine reflective progress.

Individual and/or collaborative reflective practices, employed in real-time and on location can influence professional learning a ways that provide teachers with the autonomy needed to connect in meaningfully with school reform or improvement initiatives, a valued voice along their own learning pathways, and a framework regarding how learning meets application for them and for their unique student population during any given moment in time.

Enlisting connected research and reflecting on outside scenarios and ideas has its place and should not be dismissed as worthwhile for professional learning in school communities. However, school leaders must also consider that the base of any truly connected progress specific to their school community is in fact real-time teaching and learning challenges and triumphs that are also specific to their school community, and that are concurrently transpiring along with the progress. Empowering classroom teachers to drive their own professional learning through reflection on their own experiences can be immensely powerful.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.