Opportunities for learning abound when we open ourselves to the possibilities.
Here’s an example: My 6 year old son is attending summer day camp at my school this week. For him it’s a novel situation. He’s involved with peers who hail from all over the world and speaks English all day long (instead of German). He’s familiar with the school but is not a student there. He is having a blast and enjoys telling me about all the games they play and what he made during arts and crafts. The difference for me is that I get to take on the role of parent/customer on my home turf. And in this case, it’s awesome.
I drop him off with my smiling and good humored colleagues. He then starts chatting with his favorite counselors, most of whom are alumni or high school students whom I taught or coached at one point. I am also acutely aware of my responsibilities as a parent in making the cooperation a good one: packing him a good lunch, putting on the sunscreen, respecting the pick-up and drop-off times. When I come to pick him up, I get to stand among the other parents: relaxed, unhurried and so glad to be on the receiving end of excellent care and service. My appreciation for what my colleagues do in these days to challenge, encourage and delight my youngest is immeasurable. What a gift it is to be able to experience the operation from the other side!
This got me thinking about how valuable it can be for us not only as educators, simply as people, to shift our typical perspective and try on someone else’s shoes for a bit. It might be as easy as acknowledging the good work that someone is doing with your child or children and considering the specific elements which contribute to making that a reality. Other contexts present other opportunities. Listening to my oldest son describe the details of his creative process in putting together a well edited video of his last big drum and bass set and feeling his disappointment when the rendering got stuck some 20 hours in helped me think about the challenges of making art and the personal investment it requires. While researching for my coaching practice I recently enjoyed a conversation with a high school principal in which I asked him about the demands, rewards, and challenges of his job. The anecdotes and reflections he shared with me proved thoroughly enriching and enlightening. My curiosity was rewarded tenfold thanks to his openness and a generous time frame. He afforded me the chance to try on his leadership shoes and all I did up front was request a conversation.
Going to a conference? Take advantage of being the participant/learner and benefiting from someone else’s efforts to enhance understanding, generate enthusiasm or spark action. And before you unleash the criticism, remind yourself of the bravery and preparation that most likely went into creating the offering. If you were his or her coach, what feedback would you give to help that person do better the next time? Try on the shoes.
While the summer is a great stretch of time for educators to explore a variety of professional development options, it can also provide countless opportunities for us to engage in the other PD: Personal Development. In these situations we can actively strengthen and grow the greatest difference-making resource we have at our disposal: our full humanity. That said, I see that the muscles I really need to train this summer are : outreach, connection and perspective. There are so many different shoes out there to see and try on! My PD agenda just got a whole lot richer and deeper.