Everything Is Cool When You’re Part Of A Team

I am an educator by trade, though I have been a learner and a leader all of my life. Years ago, I wrote a blog post called Learning to Lead Learning Since 1979 that goes into this topic in more depth, though I think the sentiment comes through just fine in my personal mission statement. My purpose, as I see it: to cultivate communities of learners and learning by connecting with people, bringing shape to ideas, and seeking to understand.

Thankfully at this point in time, I have found myself professionally tied to a merry band of travelers who each seem to share at least a modicum of that mission in his or her own heart and mind. Together, we canvas the country seeking to be the learning partners that educators and school districts deserve as they venture into the unexplored reaches of their professional identities. In this team, I feel that I have found my tribe. We embody the feeling of a family- a feeling that I experienced to some extent in my previous career points, though has been amplified with this group in recent months to levels unexperienced to date.

That said, within the construct of this job I get the opportunity to visit cities all across these United States, and usually do so all by my lonesome. While I am traveling independently, I do interact with countless numbers of people while on the journey. In those travels, I have noticed that I tend to operate in slightly strange ways. At least strange relative to your average person.

A Vinyl Sticker With Big Black Letters

Mr Glasses Visitor

I am always a visitor, everywhere I go. I find myself walking through downtown streets and across suburban highways, meandering, seemingly aimlessly, because I can. I am a visitor here- I am not permanent. I end up in conversations with strangers, listening for the soul of the city while also attempting to help that person know that they have a friend for today- someone who will listen and help them find that they can in fact take that next step (terrifying as it may be). I do all of this because if I start the trip as a visitor everywhere I go, I need to end with that new place feeling like home. if I have to be away from my home in order to serve as this learning partner, then I figure I might as well try to help home feel like it came with me.

Several days ago while waiting for a haircut, I had another realization that has come to hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been talking with one of my teammates about my way of being and the various people I have met along the way, and as I shared she sat in silence on the other end of the phone. When she finally did speak, her first words were, “Wow. THAT is why we need you on our team, because we do not have anyone else like you on it.” (Not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, my response: “That’s the beauty of it- we do not have anybody like anybody on our team. That’s what makes us a good team.”)

Her response got me thinking. Not even my teammates- those who “get it” more than any other due to our shared experiences out in the field- not even they necessarily understand my way of being. I felt as if I needed a way of communicating the why of my approach to life such that it could be understood- not only by them, but also a little bit better by me.

The More We Work Together, The Happier We’ll Be

Teacher Leader In You

Several days ago while waiting for a haircut, I found these words:

Imagine for a moment that one day, you decided to live as if every person you have ever met or will ever meet is on your team. You are here for them, they are here for you, and we are all moving forward together in the same direction for a common purpose. How might that mindset change the way in which you live your life from that day forward?

What I realized is, this is how I live. This is what I do. It resonated so closely with my own experiences, and like a lens brought everything into focus.

Imagine for a moment that it was true, that everyone was on your team. That would include Stephanie, a waitress in North Carolina who is 5 months pregnant with her first child, and her boyfriend, whose name I can’t remember though is no less central to the next steps within their family unit. If they were on my team, I would want to help them process their excitements and their fears about this huge step in their life. If they were on my team, I would want them to embrace the size and scope of this step. If they were on my team, I would want them to recognize how much their lives are going to change, and take steps from here on out that would help them prepare a world for that new little boy in which he will be successful. I have never been brave enough to consider taking a similar leap, so I applaud anyone who is willing and able to do so, so long as they take the responsibility of that leap as seriously as it is. While I will never meet them again, I hope that one evening’s conversation proves to be a helpful one for that new life entering the world and the parents that will help to grow it.

If everyone was on your team, that would include a team of researchers on a business retreat that I just happened to walk by one evening. They were sitting in a 25-person circle out on a restaurant’s patio, enjoying each other’s company as one whole after a hard day’s work. If they were on my team, I would want them to recognize how special it is that they elected to circle up as one whole versus sitting separately in several small groups, as such a way of being promotes team unity in ways unimaginable without it. It’s a rarity I do not often see, and if they’re able to name it, then they can replicate it. While I will never meet them again, I hope they keep on making circles of conversation from here on out.

If everyone was on your team, that would include Linda, a customer service representative for the airline of my flight for my very first event as a full-time employee, which was cancelled due to a mechanical malfunction. In talking with my boss about how to go about rescheduling the flight, he referenced the concept of “my fault, their fault, and God’s fault,” meaning that a mechanical failure is “their fault” and as such they need to do everything in their power to make it right. His direction to me: “Give them the business.” (And rereading it, I do not think he meant that I should buy more tickets.)

But if everyone is on your team, how do you “give them the business” in a way that is not destructive while also getting the outcomes you seek? Thankfully, Linda picked up the phone and asked how she could help me. I told Linda what I needed in no uncertain terms, “Linda, I am looking for a teammate and a partner. I had a flight cancelled tonight due to mechanical failure, and I desperately need to have my wheels down in Chicago by tomorrow morning for this professional learning session. Will you be that teammate?”

She jumped onto the team with open arms.

What she found was that the earliest trip out of Richmond left by 10:30am the next day, landing eventually in Chicago by 2pm CDT. My response to Linda: “I think you misunderstood me. I never said I needed to leave Richmond. I said that I needed wheels down in Chicago. I’m talking planes, trains, and automobiles here- if you can get me a flight, I can get to that flight.”

Her response: “Oh! That changes everything- let me see what I can do.”

We found a flight out of Reagan International in Washington DC that was scheduled to leave by 5am the next morning. With it being only a 2-hour drive, and current local time of 10:30pm, I had plenty of time to make it there before the flight. (Unfortunately, a 12am traffic jam on 95 North delayed me pretty significantly, and after gassing up the rental I only just barely made it in time. I will say that DC at 3:30am is beautiful- the memorial for Iwo Jima has never looked so breathtaking.)

Linda was a fantastic teammate. And if she were on my team, I would want those who work with her to know the lengths she went through to help me such that we could reinforce that behavior. So I made sure to fill out the survey at the end. It’s a small gesture, I know- but it’s the thought that counts.

The number of customer service representatives I have since been able to help in that way (because of their dedication to helping me) is moderately staggering. One night, I had been struggling to get access to my bank login and password in order to print out some statements, and finally decided to call customer service. The teammate on the other end of the line (ironically also named Linda- what is it with people named Linda and their willingness to help?) stayed on the line with me at 1:30am CDT for over an hour trying to figure out the issue. Once we finally got it figured out, I asked if there was any way I could be as helpful to her as she had been to me, to which she responded that I could share my thoughts with her supervisor. I did so happily and with fervor, even with it being almost 3am by that time.

These people are all on my team. We are here to help each other move forward, and as I come to embrace that role, I realize that it will take a constant level of personal vigilance to ensure that I continue to make decisions in my life such that I can continue to serve in this way.

What’s amazing to me- none of the stories above about the people I’ve met and joined on my team include any of the incredible educators I have had the privilege to serve. I could tell stories about them for days- I am blessed to have played a small part in their professional journeys, as they have played a large part in mine. They are by default part of my extended family, which grows exponentially by the week. Of course, that level of commitment to service isn’t really all that strange, and frankly I have plenty of real estate to tell those stories in the context that they deserve in order to help others learn from those practices.

This way of thinking was highly influenced by one of my former and forever teammates- a lead coach who has since taken a role as a site-based leader. When I elected to take on this role full-time starting last year, she asked me, “Where will you find your team?” Knowing that being part of a team was important to me, she worried that being out all on my lonesome would end up causing some level of angst. Little did she know the mindset that would emerge as a result.

My Mission, Should I Choose To Accept It

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Spider-Man is one of my many personal influences. My dad used to end each day with me by reading a few pages of a comic as a bedtime story, so I always tell kids that Spider-Man taught me how to read. And if they’re kindergartners, they say, “Mr Glasses…you know Spider-Man?” #kidssaythedarnedestthings

That said, Spider-Man also taught me and everyone else something important- that with great power comes great responsibility.

I do think (as my teammate mentioned) that I have a gift. A gift for connecting with people. A gift for bringing shape to ideas. A gift for seeking to understand. And I think I also have the responsibility to use that gift in service of others in order to cultivate communities of learning. That responsibility brings with it the importance of ensuring that every choice I make in my personal and professional life is also in service of that mission. To do otherwise could potentially cause irreparable harm that would derail that mission, and that mission is far too important to run off track.

#ProTips From A Year On The Road

It has been a long, long time since I’ve posted to this blog. Far too long.

In taking on a new role as a team member with Advanced Learning Partnerships over this past year, I have been doing a lot of partnering, a lot of advancing, and, of course, a lot of learning. So much learning in fact that most of my reflection has been of the total internal variety– lots of light coming in, and much of it has been absorbed so as to advance my own understanding instead of reflected in order to advance us all.

That internal reflection stops today. It’s time to  get it out.

As the year comes to a close, it seemed fitting to share some stories through a list of #ProTips, an inside joke we have in our profession for the comment made just before a small but extremely useful piece of information is shared (usually one that has been right in front of you all along).

The audience I had in mind is my former and forever teammates, the Lead Coach crew in Albemarle County to whom I wrote my last post last year. I have a slide deck that I’ll finish and share with them (and you) someday, but for now these #ProTips seemed ready to get out of my head and into ours.

#ProTips from a Year on the Road

Drive carefully. You’ve never seen humidity until you’ve seen it near the gulf in Houston. Seriously- sometimes it’s like swimming where you walk. One night during a fog advisory I couldn’t see the traffic lights until they were right in front of me.

Get there early. If you want to get barbecue in Austin before they run out of the supply for the day, you’d better get there early. And surprisingly enough, they don’t really do coleslaw.

It’s a long way to Childersburg. Talladega Superspeedway isn’t the only mega-sized road in the county of the same name. In a district with 17 schools and 7500 students, the 760-square-mile span makes a drive to Yancey feel like a hop, skip, and a jump away. And if your plane happens to get grounded in Birmingham, a 10-hour drive home can feel both endless and freeing at the same time.

There are perks of being a traveler. If you’re going to be on the road a lot, find your brands of choice and stick to them. The points add up, and the perks are generally worth it. And if a hotel has morning breakfast and evening socials built into the cost of the room, go back there the next time you visit.

It’s either my fault, their fault, or God’s fault. It turns out there are three reasons for travel delays when it comes to missed airline connections. Until the writing of this post, I’d had several instances of two of the three. Well, now I’ve had all three. Turns out you probably shouldn’t try to rest your eyes outside the gate of your flight if it’s a redeye leaving at 11pm Pacific time, as it just may well leave without you. Man, sleeping overnight in airports sucks.

Kids are kids, no matter where you go. Kindergartners in South Texas talk with no filter, hug your leg without thinking about it, and give you funny nicknames like Mr. Glasses. Even in Phoenix’s 100-degree “dry” heat, 6th graders come to class smiling and drenched in sweat from running around way too much during PE. And like so many, high schoolers in Chicago are way too cool for school- unless of course you tell them you remembered meeting them in one of their classes and noticed the incredible work they were doing, and then they brim with pride. Kids are kids, and they’re why we do what we do in service of their learning and their future.

Teachers are teachers, no matter where you go. While they may use different words, teachers everywhere have the same stressors, the same sources of excitement, the same motivations for growth. There are incredible educators all over this country dedicated to pushing themselves in order to affect the lives of young people- they remind me of the dedicated teachers I strived to serve alongside with you in Albemarle each day.

Leaders are leaders, no matter where you go. They have way too much on their plates, often because they don’t want to burden others with it. They have the same competing concerns for people and for production, the degree of each of which drives their approach to leading. And above all, they desperately want to do a good job on behalf of the communities they serve. I feel blessed to be able to try to do a small part to help them keep the main thing the main thing.

Teams makes all the difference. I had forgotten about the Forming and Storming we did all those years ago as a seminal Lead Coach team before we started our Norming and Performing together. The successes we experienced lulled me into believing that things had always run so smoothly. My new team has undergone various moments of growing pains over the year, each of which takes me back to those early days when we as a Lead Coach team didn’t yet know how each other worked, let alone how we worked as one entity. On the flip side, my new team members and I have hit more than our fair share of strides that remind me to time spent running with each of you. Hope things are progressing in your new team endeavors as well- definitely miss the times around the table and in the circle together, though also loving my new team very much.

There really is no place like home. This one needs no story- it pretty much says it all. I try to make every new city I visit feel a little bit more like home by the time I leave, though it is never a substitute for the real thing.

Here’s to a ton more #ProTips in the weeks and months to come. Thanks for learning with me.

 

#Oneword at #sunchat: Top Tweet for January 2015

Reflection is a powerful tool- one that goes unwielded so often in the flurry of planning and doing that generally fills our busy days. I noticed that if I wanted to spend time harnessing that power, I would need to develop purposeful structures that would help to cause it to happen. To that end, I’m experimenting with this “Top Tweets” series.

Following the reflection gained by looking back at a year’s worth of tweets in 2014, I thought it might be interesting and helpful to increase the frequency of those reflections, to go back on a monthly basis and expanding on the ideas of the “top tweets” of each month. While the depth of “A Year In Review” can resurrect powerful ideas, I think I’d much prefer keeping these ideas at the forefront of my mind much more frequently.

Here is January’s top tweet:

#oneword Tagxedo for #sunchat – 1/4/15

Most every Sunday morning at 9AM ET, a group of passionate educators come together for #sunchat, a free-form educational chat moderated by New York educator Starr Sackstein. Ultimately inspired by the book One Word To Change Your Life (though more likely by the twitter zeitgeist, which was #oneword-ing all over the place at the time), Starr challenged each of us to choose and commit to one word that we hoped would embody the year to come, and to share it during the first #sunchat on 1/4/15 along with the hashtag #oneword:

I find these types of chats to be extremely energizing- especially those focused on springing forward into a new year. In the hour that followed, educators from around the world inspired me with their drive and enthusiasm around the practice of teaching and learning. By the end, I didn’t want it to stop, though I knew that it would have to if we were ever going to make our #oneword become reality.

Seeing the collection of tweets, I remembered a couple of different approaches to using word cloud generators as an artifact of learning, which I thought might be interesting to capture our #oneword posts. Thankfully, #sunchat is always full of motivational energy:

And so, the Tagxedo image of our #oneword discussion on #sunchat was born. PS If you’ve not used Tagxedo before, I’d recommend it- a word cloud generator similar in nature to Wordle, but with the added functionality of allowing you to customize more of the features (including the shape).

Side note: The #oneword strategy itself has been a rejuvenating one, both for me and for those with whom I work. My #oneword during this #sunchat was “reawaken,” which helps me remind myself that each day is a gift I need to embrace, and that there is a larger world outside of the short-term goals that govern my day-to-day life that I need to see. When I shared it, one chatter asked, “Have you been asleep?” My response: “In a metaphorical sense, I think maybe I have been.” Here’s to waking up in 2015!

How To: Curate a List of Your Year’s Top Tweets

Every year around the winter break, I seek to stop and pause, reflecting on a year that seems to have flown by even faster than the last. This year, I decided to do so by looking back at tweets. So much of the power of twitter is its “right now” immediacy that it’s easy to forget how looking at past tweets can remind us of what we have learned over the course of the year.

So I went back and remembered, collecting the tweets along with the memories around them in this Storify of my Top 14 Tweets of 2014. And with just a few easy steps, you can make a list of your own! There are probably easier automated ways to accomplish a similar task, but I prefer a certain level of customization in the process, or else for me it’s not quite reflection.

Here’s how I made mine:

1. Make the place where you will curate your list. I used Storify because of the ease with which it integrates tweets, links, and various other media from around the web. It’s pretty easy to use- click “New Story” and you’re ready to get started!

2. Find your top tweets. I used favstar‘s “Best Of” feature to find my most faved & retweeted tweets. While there are several other tools that do something similar, I found the favstar’s quick clicking when showing Favs & Retweets the easiest to use for this specific purpose. (Note: I’d recommend opening a new tab in your browser, with Storify in one tab and Favstar in another. This will make the process of curating tweets much easier.)

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.25.123. Find the URLs of those tweets. I did so by copying and pasting key strings of words from the tweets shown on favstar into the twitter search engine. Finding the original tweets helped me remember the context of each of these tweets, which was a fun trip down memory lane. More importantly, clicking on “Details” also brought up the specific URL of each tweet, which is important for the next step.

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.48.114. Add the tweet to your list. By copying and pasting the URL of the tweet into the “Embed URL” option on Storify’s wide array of media options, you will be given the option of embedding each of these tweets into your curated list of top tweets. It’s a little bit counter-intuitive, but the Embed URL option works much better in this instance than the Embed Tweet option because in my experience the twitter search engine on Storify only looks back 1 week into the past.

From there, add any flourishes, additional context, or memories that will help you remember the context of your learning long after 2014 has passed.

5. Publish and publicize your list. Once you’ve completed your list of top tweets, click Publish and it will be accessible to anyone on the web. What’s more, when connected with twitter you’re given the option to publicize the story on your tweet stream. I found that Notifying all of those who have been mentioned in these top tweets helped me to reconnect with some “tweeps” I hadn’t talked with in a while. Hopefully, they saw the shout-out as the “Thank You” it was intended to be.

So, to recap:

  1. Make a new post using Storify.
  2. Find a list of your top tweets using favstar.
  3. Get the URL for each of your top tweets on twitter.
  4. Embed the URL for each tweet into your Storify.
  5. Publish and publicize your list using Storify’s connection to twitter.

I hope you find as much benefit to the reflective pause that comes from looking back at your year that I did. Happy holidays to everyone out there in the PLN that makes learning together so rewarding. Here’s to the great learning opportunities that 2015 will provide!

How Does This Thing Work? More Lessons From My Grandfather

Last week, I experienced the honor of having a blog post on our school division’s leadership blog. Entitled Lessons From My Grandfather, the post focuses on dedication to professional learning and continuous improvement in order to provide quality learning experiences for our students.

Here’s an excerpt:

I vividly remember my grandfather having notebooks filled with pages and pages of tables of data. Whenever we visited his house, I would see him, every morning, check the rain gauge near the sunroom in the back yard.  He would record temperatures, humidity, and precipitation levels in his notebook and look for trends (something I found out later that he often did in his job developing insecticides).

Once I asked him, “Grandpa, why do you do write down all those numbers every day in your book?”

His response? “Because it has to be done.”

The more I have thought about it over the years, the more I understand what he meant. It’s true that information is available in so many places, in newspapers, on television and online. Even still, my grandfather had this tangible urge to learn first-hand about the specifics of his back yard.

Read the rest here. The post delves further into the relationship between updated Science Standards of Learning and changes in instructional practices, as well as the power of collaboration & team learning among professionals involved in continuous improvement.

The publishing team also asked me to share pictures that would highlight my grandfather’s many roles – New Yorker, WWII veteran, chemist, father, learner. While the one below did not fit the overall theme of the story, it is one of my favorites. It’s a “candid” self-portrait when a younger version of my grandfather was learning to use a new camera:

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I just so happen to have a stylistically similar self-portrait, taken as a toddler. I don’t know much about my grandfather’s story with his picture, though I’m told that mine goes something like this:

Mother sees son walk through the living room into the kitchen.

Mother gets surprised by huge flash of white light, thud, and blur of son running out of the kitchen in the opposite direction.

Mother walks into the kitchen to see a tipped-over Polaroid camera on the table with this picture resting next to it:

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Mother laughs hysterically.

Here lies photographic evidence of my grandfather and me each trying to understand what some newfangled contraption does and how it works, only to be surprised when we accidentally figured it out.

These are literal “snapshots” in time – just like the products of our students’ learning can serve as “snapshots” of his or her present level of performance. It makes me wonder what we can learn from any “snapshots” we take, from any evidence of “current state” – especially as we collect these snapshots over time and look for evidence of learning.

I guess it’s true that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…and it certainly doesn’t roll far from its roots.

Lessons on Leadership: Reflections from the River

DuFour’s popularized leadership motto regarding the ‘banks of the river’. The metaphor of benchmark testing as ‘stream sampling for water quality’. The notion that ‘you can never step in the same river twice’. In educational discussions, we use the metaphor of “the river” quite often, and for good reason. But how often do we examine these idioms? How often do we truly listen to what it is we are saying?

En route to the weekly grocery store run last weekend, I decided to take a detour, pulling off to a little put-in spot just off of the Rivanna River here in central Virginia. I felt a need to go to the river and just listen to it. I wanted to listen to it and take in whatever it had to say. Thankfully, it said a lot: the five lessons I “heard” lie below.

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Lesson 1: The river is much higher than the last time I visited, and seems to be moving much faster today than it normally does. To give you an idea of the differences, the photos above were taken in March 2012 and July 2011, respectively. I attribute the rapid water flow to the recent rainfall and melted snow that have collected upstream and danced their way to this spot in the path. It reminds me that this river is a part of a larger system, one piece in an extended watershed that is impacted greatly by its surrounding environment. It makes me wonder, how often do we lead teams right into the path that we have have navigated so many times before, only to find that it has been deeply affected by the enviroment around it?

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Lesson 2: Because of this increased volume of water, all of the spots that we explored last summer lay buried beneath the river’s surface. These pictures and all of those following are only from this more recent trip. As you can see, the water has covered the land completely- until the water upstream has found its way down the path, I have no chance to make it to those reflective islands and peninsulas I remember, as they do not yet exist. 

Looking further across the river, I see one patch of land that has emerged above the surface of the water. On it, the flock of birds coming to this river for sustenance have collected, bunched together on the tiniest of resting places. It goes to show that no matter what happens, there is a place to stop and survey the scene, even if those places of respite are fewer in number and farther between than would be in ideal conditions.

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Lesson 3: While the banks of the river help to define its boundaries, the river’s bed seems to dictate the river’s movement at the surface. For example, I notice a huge dip in the surface of the river just before the spot where a white water rapid breaks. The stream moves fastest there in the middle, while on the outskirts its flow is interrupted by brush, eddy currents, and its general lack of momentum. As important as the banks of the river are to direct the path, I had never wondered how the river’s bed would be represented in the metaphor, and how key it must be to the stream’s environment.

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Lesson 4: White water turbulence shows up in the spots where large boulders hide just beneath the surface. While I have that baseline knowledge already, I only know in this case because I saw those obstacles there last year, when the river itself was more shallow. While I can’t directly see these obstacles that lie ahead If I were traveling from upstream, I could see their effect on the upcoming environment, and plan to steer clear.

Another note of interest: while dangerous for a traveler, this white water spot also provides the prototypically calming sound of the flowing river. Without this turbulence, the river itself would be near silent. There is something important about this idea, that overcoming the biggest obstacles in the path can also provide the deepest level of calm.

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Lesson 5: It took a while to get here from where I entered the park. Finding the stream was a journey in and of itself. While walking the path set in front of me, I considered the experience of whoever the pioneer was who decided to lay gravel on this particular pathway. What did this path look like before it was set up so clearly for me?

Added note: Entering the path that would take me to the stream, I noticed an observation deck, recently built to allow those on the path toward the river to catch a glimpse of what they will find once they reach it. It reminds me of the importance of ensuring that those on the journey have a glimpse of the destination. In fact, that afternoon, a landscaping crew had begun clearing the shrubbery and still-standing-but-dead trees (which I recently learned are called ‘snags’) to allow for folks to see the view of the river from the deck. Not only must we build these “observation decks”, we must maintain the view – otherwise, how likely is anyone to join us on the journey?

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A friend of mine hates idioms. If it starts with, “Well, you know what they say…” she refuses to say it, predominantly because she does not know exactly what it was originally intended to mean. As mentioned before, we tend to use a lot of metaphors and other idioms around rivers in relationship to leadership. Every once in a while, it’s important to consider what it is we are saying versus what we intend to say. I am thankful to have experienced this opportunity to consider exactly what it is the river can tell us about ourselves, if only we take the time to listen.

What’s Working? Making Practice Public!

As a response to the MSNBC Teacher Town Hall on September 26, 2010, ACPS teacher Paula White (@paulawhite) suggested that we all go write a blog about what’s working in education, and share our stories with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine:

What’s working right now for me in my practice as an educator is the unprecedented access I have to discuss teaching and learning (within my school division, nationwide, and across the globe), and the growth opportunities that this level of public practice presents to me every day.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me in my school.  During lunch, my former teammate and I would talk about our upcoming plans for classes, and would often discuss a new practice we were planning to do with our students.  When I asked if I could watch and see how it worked out in his class, he welcomed me in.  The trust paid off, and I grew as a result – seeing his classroom sparked ideas for me related to the little nuances of our craft…ideas I may never have had without the opportunity to see him practice.  I like to think that he grew as well – in our follow-up conversations, he would talk about his impressions of the class and ask for my thoughts and feedback, which led to adjustments in his future class periods.  If something I said sparked a curiosity in him, he would come by to see my class as well, and the cycle of growth continued.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me across my division.  As a group of instructional coaches in our county, we seek to replicate the opportunities for these reflective partnerships that promote professional growth.  Since the beginning of the school year, I have started several new connections with teachers who have e-mailed looking for a reflective partner in practices as diverse as starting experimental design projects, gauging student progress, or planning learning opportunities during a field trip.  With each opportunity, I help the teacher see their practice through a new set of eyes, usually finding ways to connect them with other teachers.  Some of those teachers are wrestling with these same topics, while others have found a way that works for them (but are looking for ideas just as well).  When we make our practice public, we can learn from the connections that follow.

I have colleagues that open their classrooms to me across the world.  Just this week, I have read new blog posts written by educators who are inviting me into their classroom practice.  Their thoughts spark ideas in me, and their questions inspire me to seek new answers. I learned from two teachers in Iowa in Riley Lark’s (@rileylark) practice of standards-based grading, and Shawn Cornally’s (@ThinkThankThunk) continued goal to promote truly student-centered learning.  John Sowash (@jrsowash) pushed my practice from Cincinnati by sharing his lessons learned from “flipping his classroom,” while stories from Kansas’ Jim Knight (@jimknight99) about recognizing the fear inherent to professional growth helped me to recognize how the fear vs growth relationship applies to my own work.  I even had a chance to help, responding to Brooklyn’s Sam Shah (@samjshah) in his desire to find ways to get his kids to think about graphs differently, all because he had both the trust and the desire to tell everyone about it.  By sharing his practice with me, both he and I have grown in our profession.

Like any art, skill or science, I grow when I see and hear about the practice of others.  As I continue to grow as an educator, I will seek out more opportunities to make my practice public, and I hope to inspire others to do the same – that is what is working for me right now!