Row, Row, Row Your Boats


This week, teachers and staff in my school division took a breath from the daily grind for Making Connections, the annual home-grown professional development conference where we come together to learn with and from each other. As this news story highlights, a quarter of our district’s teachers put together over 200 unique learning opportunities where our community of learners could continue to grow.

The conference itself could not come at a better time of year. While the graph below refers specifically to a beginning teacher’s well-chronicled experience during her first year on the job, in many ways it reflects each of us as educators on our yearly journey.


The end of October has signaled the end of the 1st quarter, the end of the first laps on the long race that is our school year. Like many distance swimmers, we likely put a lot of energy into those first laps. As well as things have turned out up to now, there are still three times as many laps left to go. Where will we get the energy to finish the race?

I am reminded of a quote from a colleague I overheard several years ago, and think about every year at this time:

I used to hate the idea of countywide conference days as they approached. I always felt like I had so much I needed to do instead. But once I got there, I would see my friends from other schools and connect with them about things I was trying to figure out. By the end, I always had a great time: It gave me a chance to breathe.

The fact is, if the graph above holds true, many educators may be drowning (figuratively speaking) as the quarter comes to a close. Times like Making Connections become an opportunity to row your folks ashore. These development opportunities and similarly large chunks of time and resources are “rescue boats” that a school district can row out into the surf, getting close enough so that those who are struggling to stay afloat can grab hold. Of course, there is only so much room around the boat’s edge for people to grasp – the only way that we can all make it to safety is to connect to each other while those closest to the boat hold tight.

I appreciated the opportunity to make connections today. I thank those who were willing to reach out with the stories of their learning, and I look forward to many more reconnections over the next laps of the race. I am especially thankful to be part of a school division who recognizes the importance of rowing out the boats, right on time.

Not Waving, But Drowning: A Companion Checklist

In the October issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership, I recently had the honor and privilege of having an article published around the concept of meeting teachers’ needs.  Entitled “Not Waving, But Drowning”, the article draws an analogy between a leader’s response to overwhelmed teachers and a lifeguard’s response to swimmers in trouble.  The analogy has helped me as a mental framework for strategizing my next steps within the many contexts of my day-to-day work alongside teachers in our school division.

As a companion to the article, I developed this infographic summary of the framework:


While the visual representation does not necessarily replace the context that the article builds, it can serve as a simple reminder of the article’s contents.  I actually printed out a copy of the picture and put it up on my bulletin board so that I would remember to check myself in my responses to the environment around me.  You are welcome to do the same.

In case it would be more conducive, here’s a version as a downloadable pdf, as well as a black-and-white version in pdf form.  Hope it’s helpful!