The Faculty Meeting: a meditation on teacher choice

image CC via

image CC via

I attended a faculty meeting today and am glad I went. I had a choice. With a move to a part-time contract, my attendance is welcomed but not a hard and fast requirement at this stage. So I made a decision. I decided…

  • …in favor of seeing and hearing my division colleagues.
  • …in favor of being on an equal information par with my colleagues.
  • …in favor of recognizing the efforts of individuals and teams committed to making school the best possible experience for kids and adults.
  • …in favor of participating in a professional community rich in knowledge, enthusiasm, care and humor.
  • …in favor of showing my colleagues that I value them and our work together.

The situation reminded me of the choices we have as educators on a daily basis. The question I had to ask myself in deciding to attend the meeting or not was: How do I want to show up this year?

And when I thought about it in those terms, I realized that although my hours are fewer, the love and concern for my students, colleagues and our school is not less. In many ways, my capacity to care and invest in the whole enterprise appears to be greater. I have deeper reserves to draw on when the going gets tough. This year I may find myself in a position to support and uplift others in ways I could not have done before. That thought fills me with gratitude and energy.

The questions I want to pursue this year are many. Most likely too many for a single school year. Having the benefit of time every day to step back from my teaching, I want to think more deeply about the language I use with kids; how I frame my lessons in terms of power – when do my students have power and how do I share power with them? I want to examine the labels I and others place on students, peers and parents. Whose interests do we serve in referring to a “difficult” parent or “really smart” kid? How do those labels influence my perception and expectations and ultimately, my behavior?

There is no guarantee that I will succeed in pulling back the curtain on my bevy of biases and mental models and actually recognize unhelpful patterns, but the choice to try and try and try again is mine. Asking myself: “How do I want to show up this year, this week, this lesson?” will become my tool of choice in the effort.

Because I can, I will choose.

Taking Conference Learning to Task

One week ago I was packing up to leave a marvelous educators’ conference. The Central and Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) conference celebrated its 25th anniversary at a stunning resort location near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Spectacular views to the Adriatic Sea, attendance by just over 400 educators and school folk from the region and beyond, and a strong selection of workshop sessions around the theme of “transforming education through global citizenship” offered all the right ingredients for an outstanding professional experience.

In a nutshell, I could not have been happier with the conference and my attendance. Not a moment of my time or dose of energy felt wasted or superfluous. It was a conference put together with great care and attention to coherence and also ambient experience. Opportunities and invitations to visit Dubrovnik and drink in its unique history and atmosphere were actively incorporated into the program. The keynote speakers were extremely well-chosen to address the conference theme of global citizenship: Michael Furdyk spoke about the student service platform Taking It Global and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs described steps to create 21st century learning environments. Additional invited speakers led well-attended workshops of practical pedagogical importance.

Now, one week later, I am asking myself however, to what end? Yes, I had a rich and invigorating conference experience and enjoyed fun and also reflective times with some of my colleagues but what of it? How does that serve anyone besides me? Who benefits from my freshly gained (and perhaps as quickly dissipating) insights from this great learning experience? I imagine that I am not alone in this experience. It could be that many other conference participants left this spectacular event only to see those precious new ideas for innovation or tweaking quickly fade when they got back to school. They may have found that their colleagues who, during said absence were literally and figuratively “holding down the fort,” did not or could not share the same enthusiasm for new ideas or spare the time to appreciate them. For many of us this situation may be par for the course. Not every school has an active forum for conference participants to share their learning with colleagues upon return. Which is, of course, a shame.

Overcoming this situation would not necessarily require much effort. 5 minutes of a faculty meeting, perhaps. Or a world café style meeting where conference attendants share and moderate conversations around the most compelling take-aways from their conference experience and colleagues can choose 2-3 areas of interest in which to engage. The key lies in honoring time and effort spent on professional learning and providing space for those gains to be shared, spread and built upon. If you imagine sending teachers to a conference as an act of sowing seeds, then surely we must all take an interest in the ensuing growth and harvest that will follow.

One of the thoughts that kept coming back to me at the conference was: given the theme of global citizenship, how adept do I feel in my own capacity to model, (not even explicitly teach yet) some of these principles for my students? All the topics of what and how to change the educational experiences of our students come back to me as a teacher and the role I plan to take in making it happen. Reflecting on this question “in my own private Idaho” appears to be of little use. This is a question whose response insists on company and dialogue and challenge in order to make sense. Without the benefit of outside and other perspectives, I will continue to see things not as they are, but as I am.

This strikes me as the fundamental glitch in our ability to transfer great conference learning and experiences to community benefit and growth. How might we move from “one and done” professional learning events to something like “one and share and extend….”? How might we bring those insights back to our students to let them know that we were learning on their behalf? When will it become commonplace for us to highlight and value learning that takes place outside of our schools, districts, and subject areas?

These are big questions and critical to sustaining the purposeful use of conferences as a wise professional learning option. My time in Dubrovnik could be written off as a delightful vacation opportunity with a little education(al) banter thrown in. But the fact that it was so much more than that would hardly be known unless I broadcast it here. That speaks volumes about how far we have to go.