Monday, June 29, 2015

Commit to Lifelong Learning

The quote above was overheard at a session I attended at the ISTE Conference. I didn’t realize that it would be such a popular tweet. It’s something that others recognize or relate to far too often.

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.  
~ Chinese Proverb

Not all teachers, and certainly not all teachers in your building, are like this. There are probably ⅓ who embrace professional learning, ⅓ who are on the fence, and ⅓ who are opposed. SO what can we do as school leaders?

Focus on the ⅓ who DO want to grow professionally. Find ways for them to work with the ⅓ who are on the fence. Provide encouragement for both of these groups, as well as a lot of praise.

For the ⅓ who are opposed and negatively respond to PD opportunities, try saying this to them, “From the messages you’re sending, you’re opposed to professional development (learning anything new). Is that the case?” It may take a lengthy conversation (or several) to hear and understand the teacher’s opposition. 
  • Perhaps the teacher doesn’t find the PD relevant. 
  • Perhaps the teacher is fearful of trying something new and not being seen as an expert. 
  • Perhaps the teacher is lazy. 
  • Perhaps the teacher’s ego is in the way of him seeing that he should be in it for the kids, not himself. 
  • Perhaps the teacher feels overlooked and undervalued. 
  • Or something else.... ??
Our responsibility as school leaders is to find out.

When we started our school-wide literacy plan this past school year, I had a teacher tell me that he couldn’t learn anything new during the school year. (Yes! He actually DID!) The literacy plan required teachers to meet once per month in their PLCs to talk with each other about how they were incorporating a particular literacy strategy into their teaching. In our conversation, he told me that he needed to learn things in the summer when there was more time.

Well, this summer we are offering many PD sessions at our school (and many of them are teacher-led.) I saw this teacher at school one day and I said to him, “I heard you when you said that teachers needed to learn things in the summer. We’ve got great PD sessions lined up.” His response was this: “Well, the summer is soooo busy.” I, half-jokingly, said, “You can’t say you’re too busy during the school year then tell me you’re too busy during the summer, too!” I’ve still got my fingers crossed that he will attend the literacy day. If he doesn’t, will I talk to him about it? Certainly.

Professional development sessions must have the characteristics of adult learners in mind:
• Active engagement  
• Relevance to current challenges  
• Integration of experience  
• Learning style variation  
• Choice and self-direction 

(from Supporting and Sustaining Teachers' Professional Development: A Principal's Guide by Marilyn Tallerico)

Along with the above characteristics, there must be follow-up and/or coaching. If we “teach” something to teachers then expect them to go back and try it with a 100% success rate, we’re not being realistic. We must provide ongoing support and help teachers to feel successful and "as if their time was worth it," because their time is valuable.

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
-Galeleo Galelei

At the end of the school year, I want every teacher to be able to answer this question, “What one new thing did you learn and get good at that made you a better teacher at the end of the school year than at the beginning?”

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