Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season! A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.
Filtering the Influx
In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says
I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.
I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read. I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.
As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.
In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping, they have less time to do these things than they did before.
Time for What’s Important
Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically
Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally, a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things. I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!
Now – Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children, I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship . I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.
I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.
Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way. We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.
The guilt is gone.
Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?
Listening in the Midst
As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus, to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.
George is correct, isolation is a choice.
I have met very few teachers who are all alone.
They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.
I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.
I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.
If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?
I just recently joined the Fireside Learning Ning which was started by Connie Weber. I haven’t spent a great deal of time there yet, but I can sense that it will be another great place for networking and learning. As an administrator, I’m always looking for ways to help the staff with whom I work improve their teaching. This stems from my work as a classroom teacher where I spent 10 years developing and adjusting what I was doing. During this time, I completed my master’s degree and it was here that I began to question what I was doing and how I was interacting and teaching the students in my room.
When I began teaching, I was a typical lecture, show then have students do work type of teacher. I had success with students who were average or above but really struggled meeting the needs of other students. One year, I had a class with a number of students who needed me to do more for them but I felt I really wasn’t helping them like I should. During one of MEd classes, I was introduced to the work of Vygotsky and, wham, I was drawn in. I began to read and look for ways to move my teaching from the traditional style to a more constructivist approach. I also began to really look at the lives that my students were living which really helped me to understand better what we were dealing with in school.
Eventually, I moved from the classroom and into administration. Now, as an administrator I am thankful for all that struggling that I did trying to find my way in the classroom. My first few years of administration were trial by fire as I tried to bring what I had learned in the classroom to bare on an entire school and work with teachers in this manner. Actually, I was pretty bad at it. Looking back, I wasn’t a very effective administrator and ended up in more conflicts than I needed to be in. But like all things that didn’t start out being positive, that experience has really helped me in developing my own administrative style which definitely has its roots in constructionist theory.
At the school level, I try to encourage all the people there to remember that learning doesn’t stop but continues on. I try to support PD endeavours the best I can and look for ways to that will support the process of learning for everyone. During our Drop Everything And Read time, I encourage all people in the building to do just that. I demonstrates that this time is important and supports the idea that we all need to spend time reading. As an administrator, I try to model this through taking classes myself and sharing some of the things I’m reading with staff whom I believe will be interested.
The one thing that I really try to do is help teachers to look at different strategies for teaching. It also means that I try to visit their classrooms on a regular basis, seeing what they are doing and getting to know how they conduct their classes. This helps me when we have conversations about teaching and when I come across information that I want to share with them. Like students in the classroom, teachers are not all the same. Each one has their own style and way of doing things which are important to validate. Because learning is a lifelong venture, I want teachers to be confident knowing that I will support their ideas asking that they have a plan that involves reflecting on what they are doing. As a teacher, I found that helping students build their understanding was so satisfying and I want to continue this as an administrator. I think I’ve finally reached the stage in my administrative career where I can now focus on this much more, having become comfortable with the role that I am in. I also see that technology will be part of the learning environment regardless of how much people resist so part of my role is to bring this into fruition as painlessly as possible.
I remember as a teacher how I rarely talked about teaching and learning with my administrators. It wasn’t something that happened often. For me, I really want to encourage and grow these conversations. How best can this be done especially in the jam packed world of the teacher? How can conversations, especially around technology, best be begun so that people do not feel pressured and attacked?
I have often discussed on this blog that schools really need to approach things in a different way and one of my goals this year is to begin that walk. This will require change on many fronts which is not easy but, I believe, necessary for schools in order for students to become lifelong learners not repositories of information.