I just finished participating in an #educoach chat. Topic for the evening: How to work with reluctant teachers from an instructional coach perspective. A large number of educators participated, included an author on the topic.
What did I gain from it? I discovered an excellent post on the topic of paraphrasing and reframing when listening, as well as a possible book study on John Hattie’s newest release.
This evening of professional learning took place one week after my annual contract as an elementary principal expired. I have every right to sit back and enjoy my time off until mid-August, when my contract for next year begins.
And I have taken time for myself: my family and I visited friends over the weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We’ve been to the lake and enjoyed some water-squirter target practice in the yard. Yet here I am, getting involved in conversations about how to be the best coach and leader for the teachers in our school.
I think this is a dilemma that many professional educators face. Do we get away from all things school-related for the summer? Or should we stay connected to and continue to develop our personal learning networks and nurture our professional growth?
I can understand the arguments made for the former. Educators work incredibly hard during the school year; we need the break. This time away allows us to recharge and rejuvenate. The personal experiences we have – through travel, our hobbies, and spending time with family and friends – make us more well-rounded and interesting individuals. We need to have a life beyond school. Staying connected to school, in whatever capacity, can prevent us from ever getting away in the first place.
Reflecting on Experience
The dilemma around how best to use our summer time became evident to me last year. Our leadership team and I engaged in a digital book study around the title Building a Professional Learning Community at Work by Bill Ferriter and Parry Graham. I created a Google+ Community, and we started our conversation on Chapters 4 and 5.
Then reality set in. Back in March, we had made the decision (mostly prompted by me) to extend our dialogue around this book over June, July and August. Now it was summer. One of the teachers was already at a cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
Yet we continued on. One of the topics from the book was about using digital tools to communicate beyond the school day. “What are your thoughts on this?” I posted. The responses were across the board, from “I like being able to learn whenever I have time and access” to “My time with my family should come before online conversations.” Valid points, all of them. I did my best to just listen and not respond, except for lots of “+1″s on their thoughtful reflections.
This phrase, “modern learners,” was coined (or re-coined) by Will Richardson in a March 2013 Educational Leadership article “Students First, Not Stuff.” Richardson describes students in the 21st century who “see growing availability of computers and access as a means to learn deeply and passionately in ways the current system of schooling was never built for.” Aren’t we students too? We are learners of practice, of each other, of our own students. This is the only way we can improve ourselves. Richardson also notes that
Learning is now truly participatory in real-world contexts. The transformation occurs in that participation, that connection with other learners outside school walls with whom we can converse, create, and publish authentic, meaningful, beautiful work.
Being connected has become an essential part of this always-learning mindset. But it can also be all-consuming. I have worked to improve my own balance between connectedness and distance, through no/low-tech days once a week, as an example. But even when offline, my brain is still online, composing the next thing. “After reading that post,…”
So where is that fine line between that much needed time to recharge and my equally important desire to be a lifelong learner? Is there truly an off switch? I am still trying to figure it out.
Curt Rees, who co-wrote the foreword for my upcoming book Digital Student Portfolios along with Jessica Johnson, has a blog titled I Know This Much Is True. The title very much reflects what it means to me to have a learner’s mindset.
We don’t know anything deeply until we have had time to wrestle with ideas that pique our interests and provide possible answers to our questions. These understandings can only be found by garnering as many perspectives on the topic as possible. That comes about through broad and deep connections. My personal learning network is a big part of it.
What I Know Right Now
â— I would not be half the educator I am if it weren‘t for those that I have met online. My universe has expanded. The level and diversity of connections I have made with others is amazing. I feel twice as smart because I have resources only a tweet or post away. I did not attend ISTE this past weekend, but I did follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag and my PLN colleagues who were there. Just because I am not physically present doesn’t mean I have no access to these kinds of learning events.
â— I have to build in time to disconnect. This not only refers to spending time with family and friends but spending unconnected time with myself. While my PLN is important, it is only one part of my learning life. I read, I reflect, I write, and I interact face-to-face with others, all without wireless connection. In fact, I purposefully sought out establishments that did not have wireless while writing parts of my book. I found I needed to disconnect in order to write about digital tools and being connected.
â— Finding balance requires intention. So I am aware that I like to be connected, but I also need time away. What helps is emulating other wise practitioners’ learning habits. Are they tweeting out every hour? How do they utilize bookmarking tools such as Pinterest and Diigo to take control of their information feed? We need to take control and manage the flood.
Most importantly, I know I could be a good, even a very good educator without being connected. But in our pursuit for excellence, in our now connected world, I believe it is essential that we have a healthy personal learning network. So my learning doesn’t stop when June arrives. To be a modern learner demands nothing less.
So what do you know right now?
[Photo: With my kids at the lake, the day after school ended]
Latest posts by Matt Renwick (see all)
- How Do Digital Portfolios Help Students Learn? - August 1, 2014
- Should We Unconnect from Our PLNs Over Summer Break? - July 3, 2014
- Passion-Based Learning, Week 8: The End of the Beginning - April 30, 2014
Matt, What I know right now… is that I’m PASSIONATE about teaching. I take breaks, it’s true, but my summer is all about growing myself and striving to make next year even BETTER. I think, if we strive for mastery, it is because we WANT to, and we know we’ll never get there – such is the allure. 🙂 So, yes, I agree that we need to fit in valuable time with family and friends while unplugged from other teachers. I also believe that if it is truly our passion, no one can keep us from it… Enjoy your summer and the 2014-2015 school year – thanks for posting!
Thanks Joy for sharing what you know right now. Your work with #genuishour shows how much passion you have for lifelong learning and bringing that disposition into your classroom
It’s like you’ve reached inside my brain and pulled out my thinking over the last week. But I agree with Joy; I know that I am passionate about learning about learning. It is what I love and what makes me happy. For me enjoying my summer is about having the time to do what I love to do best. But I also believe that it is important to spend time with friends and family and to spend time disconnected. I don’t need 8 weeks of being disconnected though. Having 8 weeks away from work is a luxury that very few professionals have. We do work very hard during the school year; but I’ve always found that spending time on perfecting my craft over the summer makes my school year run more smoothly as I work more efficiently. I guess what I’m saying is that it is all about balance. If we are to call ourselves a profession, then it is important to spend a portion of our summer honing our craft by connecting with others who help us to grow; but never at the expense of friends and family! Thanks for such a relevant post.
Thanks Lorraine for the comment. I am glad you found my post relevant. The line between work and home have really started to blur. That is why finding balance is important, especially when it is so easy to connect now.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, -Matt
Where I am right now? I am reading professional articles, researching new strategies, and looking to maintain an efficient learning environment that is always inspiring. But it is summer so I am also swimming, traveling, reading for pleasure, keeping up with family and friends. Summer is a time to recharge what has been drained from us during the school year. I can’t detach myself from school and learning for a summer but some do. I can’t force my ways on others.
Where I am at right now…depends only on where I want to be!
Great article, Matt!!
You seem like you are in a good place, Jeanne. Thank you for sharing your perspective on how you find balance.
Summer is my optimal time for PLNs because I have the time and attention available to digest information and commit to applying it to my classroom. Of course we take time to “disconnect” in summer months, but for me I am able to disconnect from stress and pressure, not learning and growth. A thought-provoking piece – thanks for the post!
Thank you Traci for commenting. When you said, “I am able to disconnect from stress and pressure, not learning and growth”, I thought that you summarized the collective thinking here so well.
Enjoy your summer! -Matt
I agree in principle with your article though it is a dangerous and slippery slope. There is a fine line between encouraging staff to continue professional growth through study and learning over the summer at their leisure and making this sort of work mandatory. I have read several books this summer and participated in a couple of professional development opportunities all to my (and my students’) benefit. My struggle begins when administrators and districts begin to mandate this sort of “development” during the off months.
Teachers across the country are pulled in too many directions as it is. Curriculum studies, Common Core implementation, Classroom Management seminars in addition to creating, developing, and implementing rigorous instruction in their classrooms. To add the mandate that teachers MUST attend “X” seminar and read “Y” book disrespects their time and adds additional burden to an overworked and grossly underpaid workforce that is already declining in numbers at an alarming rate. This year the school I work for is mandating that the staff return a full week prior to the official teacher report week to attend a “workshop,” effectively killing the staff’s last week of summer.
So while I agree with your premise that good teachers never stop learning, I believe it is imperative that summer time off is respected, and that any summer professional development needs to be completely voluntary. Because a teacher can still be a great teacher even if he/she takes the whole summer off.
Thanks for reading.
Jason, thank you for commenting. Everything you share rings true for me. As a principal, I try very hard to be respectful of my teachers’ time. For example, I rarely if ever email them over the weekend during the school year. I know it is appreciated by staff.
In addition, we have done our best to keep mandatory PD restricted to the contracted time. However, staff have recently selected writing training for the past two years. These days have creeped into their summer time. No one complained to me about this, probably because they see the importance of it and had ownership in the process.
Your perspective is a valuable one Jason. Enjoy the rest of your summer!