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The Opportunity is Here & Now

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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I walked into a classroom to find 23 students busy at work. I walked around, and each student cheerfully said hello and proudly showed off their work. I stopped at one table, and the little girl and little boy were just sitting. I asked if they were finished, and both said no and looked very sad. I asked them where their paper was, and they both said they didn’t get one. I told the boy and girl to go ask for one, that sometimes this happens, but they need to ask the teacher for a paper. They did, the teacher happily got them a piece of paper, and both got to work, smiles on their faces. Crisis resolved.

This instance got me thinking, as many events during the day tend to do. As educators, we are often so busy or not sure where to turn, so we never ask or step outside our comfort zone to try something new, taking a risk. Our professional growth is stale because our school day is so fast-paced, by the time we need to ask, the rest of the world has moved on, leaving us stuck with a comfortable teaching technique or same procedure. That little boy and girl were not sure what to do, despite knowing they could simply ask the question in order to get that piece of paper. But they both felt the time to ask had passed, and they weren’t sure what to do.

We cannot allow the opportunities for our professional growth slip by.

Professional learning is a passion of mine. There are multiple topics I enjoy reading and learning about, such as technology, literacy, leadership, and motivation. I often ask myself, “What do you want to focus on, learn more about?” And over the past few months, I am drawn to the development of collaborative communities within a school and throughout the wider educational community.

Think about this: A college student studies education, observing classrooms, and eventually completes a 12-week student teaching experience. That student then becomes a teacher, hired to guide a group of students through skills and content. Once hired, that new teacher works tirelessly on lesson plans, grading, and classroom management tasks. He/She will talk with other teachers during lunch, before or after school, might get ideas or share ideas with others during those times. He/She will likely search for lesson activities on the Internet.  He/She may even attend a workshop or two during the school year, learning about a particular teaching technique.

The above description, at least in my experience, is fairly common among teachers and even principals. Throw in a few college courses or even a masters degree, and this describes most teachers. Nothing wrong with this, as there is opportunity for collaboration and growth, but in today’s educational arena, this is no longer sufficient for true growth. We expect our children’s education to be a continuum in skills development, and yet our own professional learning is choppy and scattered at best.

So, what is the answer?

I wish I had the answer, and I have read about many schools trying different approaches, such as the 80/20 approach, giving teachers time back during the day for their own professional growth. I am trying some different approaches, and so far, I feel we are moving in the right direction.  As a lead learner, I feel it is my job not only to ensure students are learning, but also our teachers should be growing. How can I better support their development?

Over the past year, I have set to demonstrate my passion for professional learning. I facilitated two book studies, modeled and taught lessons in the classrooms, and held PD Roundtables - short bursts of information led by teachers on various topics before or after school. Our leadership team has led the discussion of what is needed in the school in order to grow. Our community of learners is now expanding beyond students, and now is taking shape with the staff.

And so, with a common vision and action plan at our school, we are pushing each other in our professional growth. I have recently found another wonderful opportunity for learning within the school day. Lunch time offers an opportunity to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. So, I have facilitated a few  “Lunch n’ Learns” in our staff lounge, leaving it completely open to questions about a given topic. As I sit with my staff during lunch, questions about a given topic are posed. I am there to answer those questions, but even more than that, it is the open sharing of answers on a given topic that truly take our conversation to a higher level. We are helping each other figure out the answers, as we know that no one person can have all the answers. Topics have ranged from Google Apps for Education, Animoto, Twitter, to sharing our plans for professional learning over the summer.  

Our professional learning cannot be dependent on how many workshops we attend. We need to ask the questions plaguing us now. How can we use what we have to grow and learn together, supporting one another when time is precious and there is little extra to give? We need to be able to take risks in teaching, so that our students continue to learn and grow like never before. Without professional growth and support, risks will never be taken.

Professional growth needs to be a priority to everyone. We not only model the amazing opportunity lifelong learning provides, but we grow so that we can reach our children more effectively than before. I love it when the sky’s the limit!

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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 Monday, 24 October 2016