Confession… I am on a career path right now that I didn’t expect 15 years ago when my journey as a classroom teacher began. I must have sworn a hundred times that I would never leave the comfort of my four walls. I was 10,000% committed to my students, their parents, and improving the community through the work I did within the safe space of Room 100. I loved every second of crafting a lesson based on the students’ interest. I couldn’t wait to attend things like Back to School Night, Family Fun Night, and the Picnic on the Green. My excitement would reach its peak when it was time to perform our second grade program. I would cry tears of joy when I got to sit at the piano and sing with my kids at the end of the day. I will never forget the moments we had singing our “class song” and “Tomorrow” from Annie. My students were awesome, and everyone of them led me to where I am today, just as I led them.
As a classroom teacher, I invested every ounce of my being into connecting with my students. I wanted to know what they liked and didn’t like. I wanted to know what made them excited and what made them cry. I wanted to see where they lived and where they played at home. I wanted to cheer for them at sporting events, dance recitals, band concerts, and karate tournaments. I wanted to celebrate at their birthday parties and worship at their baptisms. I wanted to befriend their parents and learn the family history so I could better understand the WHOLE child. I didn’t much care about what their previous teachers said, nor their report cards from the grades prior to me. Grades in general didn’t hold much weight with me anyway. (That's another post.) That was last year… They were a whole year older, wiser, and more mature when I got them. They deserved a fresh start each year regardless of how they ended. Imagine if you had to start each day without new mercy.
On this new career path, my goal is to equip, encourage, and empower teachers in order to strengthen our profession. While I don't have my kids anymore, I do think of the educators that I reach as my students. I consider it a great honor to play a role in if cultivating our work. Professional Development (PD), as some call my work, is the daily assignment I am charged with accomplishing. It is required for educators to renew state licensure and to stay current in best practice for effective teaching. I have learned a lot in the last 14 months of this new journey. One such lesson…. educators need me to approach their learning just like my former first and second graders.
Wait… Pause… I am not dare calling grown adults children. However, I am saying that their needs as learners are almost identical. There is something woven through the DNA of all of us that responds to positive, powerful, personal relationships. Just like my students, teachers need someone who will connect with them, who will cheer for them, who will stand beside them as they try new things. They need someone who will pick up the pieces if everything falls apart and someone who will tell them it is ok if they mess up. They need to hear, “No, you are not terrible if you are afraid, and no, you are not awful if you need help with your class.” They most certainly need my patience, my grace, and my support. If I the desired outcome is for the profession to be developed through my work, the need me to love the profession first, and teach it second.
Sadly, in the PD world, there are those who come to deliver the message of “change and hope” that aren’t really there to build relationships and invest in educators. Many are there because it’s their job. They are there to remind you of test data, district initiatives, state directives, and make sure you do “D, all of the above.” They were over the classroom and all the work it entailed, so they became PD leader so they could tell other teachers what they should be doing, instead of actually doing it themselves. Others are there because they are pushing their own agenda or work. They have a book or publication that they want to tell you about that espouses educational awesomeness (or so they think). Some are there because they like the attention of being an EDU Celebrity and want you to know how special they are. There are a few that have crept in through the back door, and they don’t really know much about education, but one dog and pony show lesson got them right to the top as a presenter on _______ topic.. They are not very authentic, and you know it the moment they speak.
So what am I? Am I authentic or just a charlatan with my pooch and baby horse? Am I genuine or a fraud with snake oil trying to “up my sales”? Am I delivering a blank newspaper to your door while you expect daily news? That answer is up to the teachers in the hundreds of schools I have visited over the last year and a half, but here's what I have to say about my work...
Honest truth, when I am preparing to be your PD leader, I think about how tired you are because you work way more than 8-2 each day. I think about all the things that are going on in your life beyond the school building. I consider that we aren't the same kind of teacher and maybe my style isn't your style. I consider that your skill set is most likely different than mine. I remember what it was like to sit through those horrendous, boring, irrelevant faculty meetings, and I try to infuse excitement, hands-on, relevant content into my presentation. I remember what it was like to pay good money out of my own pocket for a ho-hum conference, and I make sure to provide ideas and strategies that can be used in the classroom the very next day. I remember what it feels like for PD attendance to be required after an 8 hour work day that included a 15 minute lunch break, a zero minute bathroom break, and a bonus PD on data during your common planning period that was supposed to be for creating new, exciting, engaging lessons with your grade level, and I make sure I am respectful of your time.
Oops… Did I go too far? Did I say too much? If so, I sit here applauding and cheering. Someone has to say it. Actually, someone needs to shout it. No more click through presentations. No more sit and get. No more talk for and hour while I fight sleep. No more mass PD for the one teacher who needs help getting his reading scores up. Teacher PD needs the same care, crafting, and delivery as student lessons. Authentic PD should happen, as lessons do for students, after careful consideration of the “class”, after a needs assessment is given, after a connection has been made, after teacher voice has identified areas for growth, after _________________ (insert whatever you as the professional opportunities for learning should go here.)
Our profession is the greatest on the globe. No one has a more noble and honorable career than we do. Regardless of some negative views of public education, we are incredible and our professional development should be the same. If I come to your school, I promise you incredibleness. I promise you it will be relevant, fun, engaging, and above all, it will equip, encourage, and empower you to be developed professionally. You deserve it, just like your kids.