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Opening Doors to Sharing Our Practices

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Growing up, I remember some key phrases my mom and dad would tell my brother and me, the most common being, "Amy! Share with your brother!"

Today, as a parent, I find myself using that same phrase daily. Whether it be telling my boys to share their toys, share the game, or share a crayon, I am always teaching them the concept of sharing.  During this past holiday break, I felt as though I had been teaching this element of sharing every waking hour of the day!

In theory, the concept of sharing is not difficult. By definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary simply defines sharing as, "to have or use something with others; to divide something into parts and each take or use a part; to let someone else have or use a part of something that belongs to you”.

In our own terms, sharing is the giving of one's item to another to use themselves. We share in order for others to borrow an item or even an idea. From an early age, we teach our children to share. Share toys. Share books. Share pencils. Share games. We even teach our children to share their learning. Turn and talk to a partner to share your thinking. Share your thoughts in your reading journal on this chapter we just read. Show your math work to share your thought process while working through the problem.

sahringSharing is a two-way process. One gives, and another receives. Many times, this is reciprocal, going back and forth between two individuals. Think of a conversation between two students who are sharing their writing. One reads his piece while the other listens, giving feedback after he is done. Then they switch. They share their work and their learning, deepening thinking and ideas, helping each other through the process.  Sharing is an imperative part of learning.

Let’s even go back further. Think about two preschool children learning how to play together. They both want to play with the toy truck. Through sharing, they each learn to take turns. While one plays, the other may look on with a bit of anx but will eventually light up and smile, enthused to see the other imagine the road the truck is driving along. And then they switch! The first child gives feedback, sharing the story of the road the truck was just on, while the other child continues the journey.

Students are expected to share daily. And this must be the case for adults, for all educators. Right?

As a connected educator, I am surrounded by adults who share every day. While we are not physically sharing “our toys”, we are sharing our ideas, articles, resources, and our thinking. The sharing that occurs in my PLN on a daily basis is sometimes overwhelming, with so many great thinking being shared with me. I grow because of this, helping me to become a better leader.

But it is not just about being a consumer of all of this information. Yes, it is being shared with me, but what am I sharing with them? Will I be able to contribute anything of value to the group? My perspective might be different, my experiences might be another adventure altogether, but they are worth sharing, as the conversation that ensues because of it will deepen my understanding of those happenings, shedding new light on how I can grow and push myself to be better. In the long run, all parties grow because of our sharing back and forth, give and take.

We no longer live in an adult world of just taking and consuming. When we view our students in our classrooms as only our students, we seclude our ideas to our four walls, never sharing what we are doing to help our students grow. We become isolated in our silos, only consumers of information and ideas, and thus abandoning the deeper meaning that can be derived from conversations with others. We are stuck with our own ideas and thinking, never being pushed by others, ultimately hurting our students.

Sharing our instructional practices and ideas as well as our philosophies, barriers, and opportunities are not just saved for those who are physically nearby either. We must grow our sharing network, with every educator becoming connected, building networks of thought partners who we can always lean on and share with in order to grow and learn. And not only is the learning for ourselves important, but the ideas and thoughts we gain from others who share with us, that give and take, will result in better opportunities for our students, giving us ambition to transform what we do in our classrooms, innovating and creating new experiences for our students so that they will learn and grow as well. We want to be models for our students. In doing so, we must model sharing.

So, how can we share more throughout our day?

  • First and foremost, EVERY educator needs to join Twitter and be ACTIVE. It is fine to lurk on Twitter to start, but follow new people each day, and then start jumping into the conversation. Join a Twitter chat. Share an article or video. Build your PLN daily so that your network of sharing grows. You will never run out of ideas.
  • Open the doors to your classroom. Invite colleagues to pop in during a lesson and seek feedback from them. Start a conversation. What did you see that went well? What was one thing you might change or do differently? What have you done in the past to teach that topic? May I see that lesson? When we open the doors of our classrooms voluntary, we invite sharing and feedback. We share our experiences, which will break down so many barriers of isolation in the long run. Start with a trusted colleague and set parameters for the visit. Be the initiator. It will reap rewards in the end when you can visit another classroom to do the same for someone else.
  • During a grade level or department collaboration/meeting, share a lesson plan, including the ready-made activity, assessment, and the data that follows it. This is in true PLC form. When our data becomes transparent for others to see, we share. We share what went well and what didn’t, seeking ideas of how to make it better so we can make those adjustments for our students benefit. We must set our pride aside during these moments, humbled by the feedback we receive so that we can grow.
  • Participate in a book study. It is so wonderful to find time to read a book, particularly one that can push your thinking or your practice. While reading by yourself is wonderful, we can only glean so much insight on our own. When we share our thinking, our “aha’s” with others, we deepen meaning within our own minds and also in others. There is nothing better than sharing the ideas from a great book.

We ask our students to be vulnerable when sharing their thinking and their learning. We ask children to be vulnerable when they are asked to let the other child play with the toy truck first. As adults, we must be vulnerable too in our efforts to share, putting ourselves out there so that we can grow and learn too, becoming better for our students and our schools. We are no longer isolated consumers of information and ideas. We must be contributors as well.

That is what true sharing is about. Give and take. Open the doors so that we build a culture of sharing our practices with everyone, all so that we can become better for our students.

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Amy Heavin is the principal at Ryan Park Elementary School, MSD of Steuben County in Angola, IN. She has been a school administrator since 2010, and taught middle school English for 8 years prior. Passionate about curriculum and instruction, she pursues learning opportunities to blend 21st century essential skills instruction with best practices. As a moderator for the #INeLearn Twitter chat and contributor for EDWords and Fractus Learning, she promotes integration of strong pedagogy with technology in the classroom. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyHeavin

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Guest Friday, 28 October 2016