In a couple of weeks I will have the pleasure of sitting on a panel with some phenomenal educators at the MACUL conference in Detroit. The topic of our panel is why educators should connect. In preparation for that panel, this is my formalization of the random thoughts that I have coupled together since being invited to join.
A few years ago I was a classroom teacher and one of my best friends in the school was next door. We shared a wall and we shared a passion for chemistry, but it dawned on me one day while we were talking in the hallway during a class change that I did not know much about John as a teacher. Sure I had heard his voice through the walls on a frequent basis (and I’m sure he and his classes had heard mine) but I didn’t know much about his instructional technique nor his relationships with students or any of the other important aspects that make a teacher effective. At that moment it occurred to me that education is an isolating profession.
It is funny to think about a job that involves standing in front of 30 people at a time and talking as being one that is isolating. The reality, however, is that while teachers and school administrators talk a great deal, the majority of that conversation is small talk amongst peers or instructional toward students. There is very little dialogue about pedagogy or the sharing of ideas and technique. Most educators, whether they choose so voluntarily or do so sub-consciously are confined by the four walls of their room or office and do not engage in the types of conversations that allow them to grow. This is precisely the reason why educators should seek to connect!
There are many roadblocks that inhibit educator connections. Roadblocks like increased accountability, more school responsibilities, and a lack of time and money for common planning and professional development are a few of the obstacles that prevent connecting. Now more than ever, however, it is important for teachers and administrators to combat these potential land mines and find ways around them in order to reap the benefits. The reality of education at the moment is that there are many outside influences that are looking to derail the progress that schools make on a daily basis. These voices that exist from the outside looking in heap a very negative vibe onto schools. Connecting with the positive energy of dedicated educators is a powerful tool for overcoming the naysayers.
Stepping out of the classroom both literally and metaphorically is a necessary step toward educator progress. Technology has changed our society and has made making connections much easier, but it is not the only necessary ingredient for progress. The most important necessity is a desire to connect, the want to. This internal motivation is what pushes through the obstacles on the path and leads to connections with others, that leads to ideas and reflection, and ultimately progress in classrooms and the school.
I’m not sure where my principal at the time, Dr. Nathan Franklin, found the idea but in my last year at Loganville High we started stepping out of our classrooms. Teachers were asked to go observe other teachers, their peers, in the classroom. This wasn’t an evaluation exercise, it was an expansion exercise; one in which we could start seeing our peers’ strategies and start having conversations. It was an idea that lead to an exercise in breaking down obstacles and building connections.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the first teacher on my list to observe and learn from was my good friend John.