Oh The River Is Deep
During one of the first professional development (PD) days for my district at the beginning of the school year, I worked with several teachers and had several conversations. Some were just typical teacher banter expected at the first full PD day of the new school year, but one particular comment stood out the moment it was uttered. It continues to crop up in my mind at random moments. It stirs my oppositional defiant mojo each and every time. I don’t recall the specific wording, but while discussing the “new” collaboration methods our principal used on us as a demonstration, this particular teacher, an experienced teacher near retirement, said something like: I’m there to teach. Students are there to learn. While at first glance that may seem like a fine statement, it’s not. It wasn’t meant to be the type of comment that motivates educators everywhere to grow and learn. It was the type of comment that signals an educator who feels he or she has learned all that was needed during his or her initial teacher training way back in the day. The annoyed tone conveyed it all. Further elaboration, when a few of us pushed back, revealed a teacher stagnating in a puddle on the island of It’s Always Been Done That Way. Or maybe it was the I Don’t Have Time to Learn Additional Things island or the ever popular nearby island with a puddle of That’s Just One More Thing I Have To Do. I could name island puddles of stagnation all day (and have fun), but that doesn’t solve anything. These island puddles create what I’m calling The Lily Effect. That effect is what I’m determined to cut out of the system where I work first, and then beyond.
I’m There to Teach. Students Are There to Learn
The River It Touches My Life
While both of these sentences are true, it’s the order that bothers me first. Yes, we’re there to teach. We are teachers, after all, and yes, students are there to learn. However, they don’t always want to be there, don’t always want to learn, and aren’t always in a condition to learn, which at times it is due to circumstances out of their control. So what’s the problem with the order? I challenge all of us to flip those two statements and start from there. As more and more science and research emerges about learning and teaching and the effectiveness of teaching methods, the shift has moved from teacher directed to student centered and then student driven in classrooms all across the nation and in other countries. The problem is, we all know teachers everywhere who are unaware of this. These islanders need to become connected educators so that they can begin the mind shift that will eliminate the Lily Effect (cute sleeping snoring drooling students in their classrooms) and eventually lead to empowerment of the learners. And by learners, I mean everyone in the classroom, hallway, building, and district. I love learning right along side my students. You should too, and hopefully you do. So how do we get there? Get connected. Share what we know. Reflect. Learn. Grow.
Learning Is For Students Not For Teachers
Like the Waves on the Sand
Wrong. Teachers are in the business of learning, so how and why would they not also be learners themselves? A connected educator has the largest professional learning network (PLN) that they possibly can, participates in social media learning opportunities, reads books, joins educational book clubs, and grabs a CoffeeEDU (gathering of educators at a local Starbucks or coffee house to drink warm or cold caffeine and talk about education) when possible. Gone are the days where PD days at school or conferences and workshops were the only ways we could learn and grow. Often, these types of PD would fall short of our expectations or personal needs. While I also subscribe to the mindset that I can get a gem out of any PD if I just pay attention and look for it, I am a big fan of PD that is actually immediately applicable to what I currently do in the classroom. Tailored to Me PD has been revolutionized by technology, yet many teachers fail to realize this or take the time to invest in themselves. They are content to sit in those puddles on their island, technically in the water but not really. They see the ocean from their island puddle. They watch it, maybe a bit distrustful or fearful of the ocean of connected educators just waiting for them to dip in a toe, or maybe a finger skimmed across the surface. Even that can produce ripples that affect many more individuals than just the teacher who caused it. Our presence in the ocean of connected educators has more power than we realize, and what we do on a daily basis needs to be shared, no matter how insignificant we ourselves view it to be. It’s unique to us, our experiences, and our students. We share it because we can never fully understand how one tiny ripple on the ocean of connected educators can spread and cause change around the nation and beyond. To see your own tweet quoted and shared in a different language other than your own is mind blowing.
Getting Connected: Mind Shift Then What’s Next?
And All Roads Lead to Tranquility Base
Put yourself out there. Yes, I know you may have started a Twitter account years ago but you don’t see what the big deal is, what the fuss is all about. I was in that same puddle up until October of 2016. You may even have more than one account because you can’t remember the password to the one you created originally. Here’s the thing about Twitter, it isn’t about you, at least not entirely. It isn’t going to grow you professionally just because you have an account, tweet stuff, and close out of the app or window on your computer. That isn’t how it works, or not to its fullest potential. The educators on Twitter are where the power is, and by participating in educational Twitter chats, book studies, and interacting with others, you can embrace that power and call it your own. Learn from amazing educators across the globe. Discover ways to ramp up student engagement (and your own) with activities or new tech tools to try and great books to read. Find a tribe of educators who will support you while also challenging your thinking. Follow educators and grow your PLN. Yes, that water can be scary and deep, but it has pockets of water that is just the right temperature for you. Find those pockets. Use Twitter as your diving board to find then learn from other educators in Voxer groups and book studies, join Facebook group book studies, read blog posts from the famous educators, the not so famous educators, your friends, and, well, your probably smelling what I’m wading in here. Perhaps the biggest ripple effect you can have on this vast ocean of connectedness is by writing your own blog. You may not change the world with every post, but if you are growing and reflecting, then you can change the world for your own students. If you happen to help one educator change the world for his or her students, even for one day, then that is a glorious puppy snuggling feeling you can hold on to for a moment.
Awaken Yourself and You’ll Awaken Your Students
Where the Frown on My Face Disappears
Everything I’m preaching to you here are things I have done since October 2016 when I attended and presented at the MOREnet 2016 conference in Osage Beach, Missouri. That technology conference showed me why I needed to be on Twitter, why blogging and connecting with other educators are a must, and most of all, that is about the people. If I learn from other educators and don’t place limits on myself, then my students will be getting the very best Mrs. Steinbrink that I can offer them each and every day. I take their future very seriously. I am in charge of my own PD because I know what’s best for me to learn at every given moment to enhance how I help students learn, grow, and become empowered. I model what I preach by: attending virtual conferences (thanks Matt Miller for your Ditch That Textbook Conference and Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit 2017-extended until January 18, 2018), attending actual conferences (I present as well as attend them), connecting with educators face to face and on social media platforms, and writing weekly in order to share and reflect on what I have done or learned. As I push students out of their comfort zones, I show them how I’ve pushed myself as well. So get out there. Learn. Grow. Do. Wake the Lilys in your classroom by discovering ways to engage students through new methods of collaboration that knock down classroom walls, methods that empower them to take responsibility for their learning, and strategies that not only shift our thinking but stretch it beyond what we thought was possible. Get in this marvelous ocean with us. The water’s warm. Maybe you are or someone you work with is on the bank, staring at the water, toes in the sand. I’ll leave you with this final thought from author, publisher, and speaker, Dave Burgess: