Wow, I had such a great week of learning and celebration! What a nice way to end (well, almost end the work year 2019)! It was a reflective and energetic week of adult learning experiences; for me, both as the learner and the teacher. I loved seeing the progress of one of my schools and I truly appreciate the opportunity to present and lean with other like-minded school and district leaders at the annual Learning Forward Conference.
One of my favorite moments this week was just being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an elementary school five days away from the holiday break. It was “candy cane” day and all staff and students were dressed in red and white. I loved all of the classrooms doors ( see the snowman made of cups that graced one classroom door!) that were brightly decorated with winter and holiday themes. The staff were having their “Secret Santa” reveal and, despite the weary faces, it is obvious that everyone is digging in and doing all they can to continue to ensure learning (and, fun) right up until the last bell before the end of the year!
In the middle of all that was going on, the two principals that I work with in Rivercrest School District in Arkansas were modeling “multi-tasking”. One minute they were analyzing student data to make sure they had the very best plans for next term for each student, another second they were making lists of adults who could help with a popcorn reward incentive. They quickly switched gears and were meeting with a parent who dropped in with a concern and then I caught them signing papers and doing other administrative tasks. The spend hours with me in collaborative meetings and then off they went to plan an outing for some students. Oh, and they both drive school buses to and from school (yes, with students on them!). The other small detail- the whole time that they were doing a million little things, they spent their two days with me in leadership conversations. It is the reality of a day in the life of a school principal… the only thing missing these two days were the bandaids that they might have needed to put on a student ( I might just have not seen this!) or a storm closure.
So, with all of the actual responsibilities and tasks, how do you continue to grow your own learning? What helps you as an adult, as a professional, to stay current and motivated to be a continuous learner? What makes a difference for you? For many adults, it might be attending a conference and sessions like the ones at Learning Forward this week in St. Louis. It might be reading and reviewing books, blogs, twitter feeds and other social media sources. You might be someone who benefits the most from one on one conversations or you truly need evidence to look at to see what really are the facts and what you need to do next.
I know that we all learn differently. I also know that, each and every one of the leaders who I have the amazing opportunity to coach needs something different from me. I think of my friend Kimberly Miles in Oregon who is the most avid professional reader I know. She gets everything that she can from a book, journal article or blog and then asks really inspiring, reflective questions. I think of my friend, Suzan Watkins in Georgia who had the most authentic way of looking at student data to really get to root cause of needs. I never went in her office without a data display and conversation as the priority focus of our work. Or Julia Williams in Louisiana who often started my visits with breakfast so we could ground and align our thinking to what leadership challenges that she was facing. It meant that when the business of the school day started, we already had a plan of action.
Whatever your learning style is, this is a great time to begin thinking about 2020 and all of the learning that can happen. How can you make sure that you are inspired, well planned, energized and keeping your mind sharp? What adjustments might you make to your daily time log or your focus to get back in to a learning frame of mind? And most importantly, do you believe in personal and professional growth?
Every time I see the commercial on television that I fondly call the “good enough” commercial (the one that the doctor basically admits that he is just an “ok” doctor), I think of how that is so NOT what we want in our schools. Status quo, especially when we are not improving conditions of learning for students, is not “ok”. In fact, we have a moral imperative to do all that we can in the service of our students. And, I strongly believe that that means learning about anything and everything that will make us more impactful and more effective.
Just being good enough has proven time and time again to let our students down. And, sadly, the students who need the very best relationships, strategies, actions are often the ones who we avoid rising to the occasion for; we simply expect less of both them and ourselves. I know this is not intentional on educator or leader’s parts; it is often a case of just not knowing what to do. I was asked this week what a collaborative team could do when they were not sure of their work and the practices that were expected. We had a great discussion of how we can continue to learn, what resources we have to reference, who might be able to help us grow and develop our skills. If we don’t know, we have to figure it out. It is that simple.
This beautiful world of education now means that we are able to learn in community with one another and we can develop our skills. We don’t have to settle for what we came in to the profession knowing as all we know. We certainly need to be continuous learners if we are going to give each student every opportunity to grow. And, what an amazing chance we have to model, for our students, how learning continues and to really share a love of continuous self-improvement.
I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and all of the joy and pleasure that learning can bring you in 2020. I look forward to being back with you in the new year.