We have officially launched our Learning Collaborative, that’s what we are calling our Teacher Leadership Initiative. We changed the name because we want to emphasize that we are all learning together: students, teachers, administrators. We are in this boat together and we will leave port together and we will set sail…together. Or not at all.
Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, “Start with Why,” inspired our kickoff. Our thinking is that when we begin a huge initiative like this one, it is important to begin with why we’ve signed up to do it. When our Lead Learners team talked about this, it became really apparent that our reasons for continuing to come back to teaching year after year are closely tied to our belief that the Learning Collaborative can do great things in our school.
Our why for the Learning Collaborative? Inspired teachers empower students.
If teachers are given the time and the space to take risks to be inspired, this energy of inspiration will empower our students to do deep learning and to take their own academic risks. This is what creates powerful education.
This why will carry us through the mandates and the tough times. It will set the framework by which our school will create Powerful Learning Communities. When our Teacher Leaders first learned about the SLO goals the state and district wants teachers to complete, there were rumblings at first. But then as we processed together as a group we realized that the way we will implement them feeds directly into our why: Innovative teachers empower students. The notion that teachers are able to create their own goals from what they know about their students is innovative and empowering. We are no longer tied to how our students have performed in the past – we look at our students as they are here and now.
Today I helped facilitate a Mini Task Jam with Sarah Woodard that the Literacy Design Collaborative and the National Writing Project made possible. I feel so fortunate because we had so many amazing and awesome things come together to make this happen. We also had some really incredible teachers from four different school districts in the Denver area who took their Saturday morning to engage deeply in the work we were doing.
There is something really magical that happens when teachers are placed in a room, shown a tool, and given time to talk and create with one another. When teachers feel trusted to make amazing things happen, they do it: they ALWAYS deliver. Today was no exception.
The teachers worked hard to understand what we asked of them. They made every effort to make sure they did a good job. They collaborated and they sat in a space of professionalism. And they do this every time we do an event like this one.
But here’s the crazy thing. This notion, this idea of giving teachers time to figure out and problem solve their work rarely happens in our schools. This makes teachers feel like they’re not professionals. It makes them feel like they can’t be trusted. It makes them feel like they are not worthy of the time they give to the profession. So many teachers today thanked us for giving them time. They thanked us for sitting with them to collaborate. They thanked us for treating them like the professionals they are.
It seems crazy to me that we have to think of ways to replicate this in a school setting. What’s the difference? What can we do to treat teachers like this every day? What would that look like?
How awesome would THAT be?
Teaching is all about small steps of progress that over time make big differences. My writing students first come to me most years with an unclear idea of where their skills are as writers. This time of year, when I have them look back at their writing from the beginning of the year, they are able to see their improvement. They say things like, “I can’t believe I thought I was a great writer at the beginning of the year” or “I thought I was good, but I had no idea why I thought that.”
In many ways it’s the same with the profession. While there are many groups calling for education reform and calls for change, when there is not drastic change that occurs right away people call foul and say that teachers aren’t doing their jobs. I believe this is partially our fault as teachers.
For far too long we have said that we will simply shut our doors and not paid heed to the changing tide. This has made our profession largely misunderstood. Because our client, the public, does not understand the many moving parts of educating our children, many assumptions and judgements are made that are off base.
I believe it is up to us, as teachers, to elevate our profession. I believe it is through our stories that we can elevate it.
But we must be careful in how we tell our stories. To vent, to complain, to say that we are misunderstood only feeds fuel to the fire. While we must be truthful, we also must understand that the narrative we tell must be one that elevates and does not further polarize.
It was this reason that I started a blog two years ago on a different platform. I felt I needed to tell the stories of my classroom to show what it’s really like to be a writing teacher. I wanted to do my small part to bring transparency to the profession I care so deeply about and believe with my whole heart is the center of democracy.
I post on Twitter because I also believe it is important for us educators to stick together, to find our way together, to figure out and share what is good and what is powerful together. There is power in groups of people who bring their best ideas forward. There is power in knowing that I have a professional learning network that I can ask a question to and they’ll come running with more answers than I’ll know what to do with.
My definition of a PLC: professional learning community is something that happens at my school. It is usually structured during our “Cougar Collaborative Time” and it feels like it sucks the soul out of the participants. A PLN: professional learning network is a group who comes together more organically to discuss professional issues relevant to a person’s thinking about their career.
My PLNs are beautiful. They push my thinking. They occur online (mostly Twitter) and at my school in small conversations that take place in pods here and there. It is these conversations that make me a better teacher. It is these conversations that make me want to keep poking and prodding to become a better stronger teacher.
The PLC at my school is what many teachers say “sucks their soul”. It is usually people from grade levels who have something mandated to accomplish or discuss and make some sort of plan.
I have a new role next year at my school: data-literacy coach/professional developer. I will be working with all of the departments in my school to push their thinking professionally. I am studying ways to do this that are effective. I am looking for ways to bring the concept of the PLN to a PLC. Is this even possible? The beauty of the PLN is choice in people you are working with. It gives the freedom to discuss and do what makes the most sense.
Does anyone out there have a model for PLCs that feels more like a PLN…if so, PLEASE let me know.