Monday, May 26, 2014

Making A Mess

Sometimes we have to make a decision to make a mess. Other times, we have to do things that upset people. There will be moments where we know the majority will not understand our actions, or maybe not have the ability to listen to the whole story, and they will judge us. Fear of any of these things will completely stunt change. 

If we want to make sustainable change in the educational landscape, we have to be willing to demo some of the existing structures. We must be willing to push our vision forward and uproot ineffective, stale, and stagnant systems. Breaking down these pieces cause the dust and dirt to stir and it makes our space cloudy. But if we aren't brave enough to knock pieces down, we can never truly transform anything.

This makes people uncomfortable. This is not tidy and it is hard to explain a big vision while standing in the midst of the rubble. The thing is, there is beauty in this space too. As grimy as it can feel, the story of change can be transferred from heart to heart and soul to soul. That doesn't make it any neater or easier to see, but it can build compassion and trust.

In a world where we cannot guarantee equality, we can strive towards change, and we can start constructing something different than we had before. This does not mean we all get the same thing, this means we get the change we work for, and the differences we invest in and steadily nurture. 

It means you have to get your hands dirty, while also trying to get others to see something magnificent beyond the mess. If you can eventually get others to roll up their sleeves too, then you know you are on the right path.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Whole Teacher Approach

Photo by Ben Andreas Harding

What do teachers really need? This is a hotly contested subject. Do we need more autonomy? Better PD? Higher salaries? More praise?

In short: Yes.

Of course it is much more complex than that. Recently, I have had the pleasure of trying to dissect this topic with one of my teaching and thought partners, Amber Johnson. Our multiple platform and somewhat ongoing conversation has wrapped around to a different way of reaching teachers. It isn't revolutionary. It is actually exactly what we believe is best for the kids we teach, just applied to teachers.

What if we focus on the whole teacher? How might our schools be different if we focused on personal passion, healthy lifestyle, and intellectual growth as much as the "professional development" we assign to teachers? This goes beyond listening to teachers and hearing what they need. This is the next step of helping to develop our teachers into more complete, happier, deeply fulfilled human beings. This is a level of care and love that I don't often hear explored in faculty meetings and staff development sessions.

Let's try this on for size...

The Whole Child Tenants (altered to apply to teachers):
  • Each teacher enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each teacher learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each teacher is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each teacher has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each teacher is challenged academically and prepared for success in further study and participation in a global environment.

Teachers are stretched. We are stressed. We are doing incredible things with kids and sacrificing so much of our personal selves to make these gains, to increase the opportunities of our future generations. I think Bill Ferriter put it best when he wrote Teaching is a Grind.  

What happens when we tap into who teachers are and provide them chances to grow in their hearts and souls, not just in practice and skills? How would this alter our stamina, our drive, our overall health and well being?

I don't know exactly what this looks like in everyday practice, and I am not sure how we make this happen. Luckily, I work with people I really care about and I can't imagine not providing moments for us to explore growth on every level. I begin thinking about how I can dedicate at least a few minutes each meeting, each gathering, each opportunity, formal and informal, to grow together with this group in a different way. Or at least provide space to see what happens when you make personal happiness and heart-strength a priority equal to that of professional practice.

I can't think of any good reason not to at least try.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thank a Teacher Day: The #Dreamteam

PPPCS Middle School Team

As we move into the last quarter of the school year, I naturally drift into a reflective state. For me, endings always bring a hyper-sensitivity, which causes me to take a step back and a look back at how I arrive where I am. The reflection of my current situation has not been as centered on my students though, but that of the people on my team and the relationships I have built over the past three years at my school.

As a professional, I have worked at three different schools in Baltimore City. My current school is the longest placement I have had thus far. For the most part, our middle school team has remained pretty consistent over those three years. Some teachers have come and gone, but the cement of our team's foundation has began to really take form this year. 

This is an incredible team of educators. This is a team of people that go above and beyond every single day to make kids' lives better than they were yesterday. These people are smart, loving, patient, and forever courageous. These people have sat with me in moments of laughter and in times of tears. We have yelled in both anger and excitement at what was going on around us. And together we have pushed ourselves and one another to grow into better teachers, and different people, than who we were when we started the year. 

This year, there has been tremendous trust and love. This year, these people moved from colleagues to people that hold a really important piece of my heart. They have held that piece, shaped it to be different, and handed it back to me so I can be better. They show me more patience, trust, grace, and love than I truly deserved. They believe in one another and together we have thrived in so many ways. 

What have I learned from this team, these relationships, this opportunity for deep and internal growth? I have learned that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with, yet we are only as good as our willingness to grow and change. I have learned that it is okay to let people make mistakes, and it is even better to let them figure out how to fix it, but the best is loving them through that process. I will forever remember what is feels like to be wrapped in support and care with a group moving towards a common goal. I will carry this body-memory of success with me into my future experiences. I will be a better teacher and leader because of our work together.

I want to take a minute to thank each of the incredible educators I am lucky enough have on my team. 

Amber Johnson - Thank you never failing to be your true, unapologetic self. Your spirit, energy, and love radiate through your drive to make everyone around you better. Thank you for listening carefully and catching the stories of our team and our students. Thank you for caring about me as a person,  as someone that has messy feelings and crazy ideas.

Jes Pegorsch -  Thank you for teaching us all how to tap into our artistic selves. Your honesty about who you are and how you feel pushes me to be braver and to feel more deeply. You have empowered our students to call themselves artists and to find their own path in self-expression.  Every single day I am learning from you and from the art you create with our students.

Adam Bradbury - Thank you for your amazing paternal nature, your kindness, and for your support of every single kid and adult that is in your space. You make us smile and yet always have your eye on the prize, pushing each of us to be a better part of a stronger whole. You model this strength every day, and we follow your lead.

Mike Hendrick - Thank you for your calm wisdom. You bring a history to our space that allows us to tap into the foundation of our school and our community. Your voice is always pragmatic and your spirit is always nurturing. In my opinion, you are by far the most interesting person on our team.

Tom Consroe - Thank you for being a quiet leader. You have an ability to push our kids to be better without them even knowing they are growing. You show us what it looks like to be compassionate and kind, even in the most frustrating moments.

Rob Glotfelty - Thank you for your dedication and drive for growth and change. I have watched you transform our students into young adults that are curious and passionate about science. You share your deep passion for the universe with us all, and it creates a space of wonder and awe. 

Ricardo Horna - Thank you for teaching us how to love what is special and unique about ourselves. Your natural passion for understanding how to inspire people oozes from your teaching. You push all of us to be proud of who we are and what we have to offer, and then you create a space where we can be courageous enough to showcase ourselves in this vulnerable way.

Greg Heid - Thank you for sharing your passion for math and challenging me to adopt a different language around your beloved subject. You have allowed me to explore what makes math beautiful and how I can appreciate math's role in art, nature, and the natural order of our universe. Thank you for helping to change perspectives. And, as always, thanks for balancing my tiger-approach with the calmness of a turtle.

These people represent the PPPCS #dreamteam. I appreciate each one of you for making me a better educator and a better person.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Professional vs. Personal Development

learning to grow.
Photo by Casey Muir-Taylor
Over the last few years we have seen a huge shift in how we develop our teachers. It is no surprise that districts and organizations are beginning to move away from systemic, mass-produced professional development, as the one-size fits all model is neither particularly engaging or effective. With this has come a transformation of PD, with Edcamps and PLCs moving in to take the place of how we traditionally thought about growing teachers.

If you ask teachers, you will probably find that the majority of them are extremely grateful for this change. Teachers need autonomy in how they grow, explore passions, and we also need to build a network of allies that are invested in growing in the same direction as us.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me, as I finish my sixth year of teaching, that being a connected education and having this network of people stretches far beyond my professional growth. This network of people have become far more than colleagues, but true friends that are invested in caring about me as a whole person, not just the piece of me that is an educator. They are people that I connect with over social media, explore educational philosophy and pedagogical struggles with, but it doesn't stop there. I watch them post pictures of their children, celebrate birthdays, and send words of encouragement when hardship and sadness falls. I get messages of encouragement when I am moving into new territory, we share a funny video or new song, and I send a quick note when I haven't heard from someone in a while.

This is a network of people growing the whole educator, caring about the hearts of people.

Last week, I was lucky enough to explore this very topic with a group of educators at Common Ground, the Maryland Society of Technology in Education conference. Andrew Sharos, from Leyden High School in Chicago, was my partner in leading in that session. Andrew and I have worked to connect our classes in various ways this school year and have explored ways to grow as educators. It has been one of the most rewarding and fruitful relationships I have ever had professionally. What I didn't talk about during our presentation were a few of the moments that were more important to me as a person, those points in life when your heart gets a little bigger and your soul a little stronger.

Like getting see Andrew's son for the time.

Or getting to share how our kids at Patterson Park Public Charter School have #leydenpride.

These moments are possible because of being a connected educator, but more than that these experiences have been nurtured by a group of people that encourage educators to take professional development personally. They have become my family in learning and growing and living. 

As we push administrators, districts, and our colleagues to rethink how we grow educators, I will push them to grow the hearts of those around us. When you start with the heart, we all find ways to grow in the direction of love. And when we center that movement in nurturing a community of people that care, it doesn't matter what standards you are nailed to, what curriculum you teach, or what your kids look like, because what you have to give those kids transcends everything external and moves to building internally. These communities allow exceptional personal growth, and that benefits everyone professionally.