Friday, December 31, 2010

If only Sisyphus had a team like mine...

The holidays can't help but promote reflection. One of the things that I've been mulling over is the progress I'm making in a year-long, job embedded professional development experience called Powerful Learning Practice, or PLP. I'm working with five other teachers from my school who teach our youngest (3-Day Three's) in the Pre-School and our oldest students in the Upper School. Some may say we're an unlikely mix of talent. My colleagues asked to be part of this experience and I couldn't be happier with the combination of grades and disciplines they represent. Our teammate from the Pre-School, Chris, has opened our eyes to the critical importance of early childhood education. In addition, she's trying to break down closed doors and promote a culture of "professional sharing" among the teachers in her building. Dana represents Fifth Grade. She is on fire with new ideas and a sense of purpose. She understood "how" to use the tool just not "why" she should use it. Now she does. She loves the PLP Ning and through that connection found her way to another teacher in New Zealand who answered her questions about podcasting. Rachel is our Middle School teammate. She teaches English and manages the Middle School Academic Resource Center. Rachel promotes passion-based learning not only for her students, but for the Middle School faculty too. She challenges all of us to find joy in learning. Beth is Chair of our History Department and is a respected voice among our faculty. She is not one to jump from one learning fad to the next; she carefully considers how a change in her pedagogy will improve learning outcomes for her students. This year she required the students in her Contemporary Issues class to blog and she is pleased with their progress. They are thinking deeper, writing better, and making connections with others outside our community. Lana is a math teacher in the Upper School and our PLP Team Leader. Lana is a "prove it" kind of teacher. Maybe it's because she is a math teacher of the highest quality, but she challenges almost EVERYTHING we do in the PLP. That might be upsetting in some groups, but I think we're lucky to have her. If our ideas can stand up to Lana's scrutiny, then I feel a lot more confident sharing them with the rest of the faculty. From our little community outside Baltimore, MD, we are asking questions and sharing experiences with teachers and administrators across the United States, and through them we're making connections with other educators from around the world. We found community first through the PLP and oddly enough, it led us to find strengths in one another. As for me, I'm learning to listen better, trust more, and let go and let the learning happen.

I've been working in Educational Technology for twelve years, ten years at my current school. Like Sisyphus, I often feel like I've been pushing that same rock up the hill for a long time...and I'm tired. But a funny thing happened just as we were leaving leaving for our holiday break. My PLP team came to my rescue. Faced with designing a couple of days of PD and wondering how I might both celebrate the accomplishments our faculty have made this year while at the same time introducing new concepts in teaching and learning, my teammates jumped at the chance to help me. They are also wonderfully excited about bringing a Middle School PD model, "Breakfast Boosters," to the other Divisions. "You don't have to do anything!" Chris told me. She and Dana are organizing it in the Lower Division (as are Beth and Lana in the Upper School) and I get to attend as a participant (Joy!). I volunteered to cover some of Chris' classes so she and Dana have time to plan, which is a small thing considering the enormity of their project. The rock is still there and it still needs to be moved up the hill, but I'm not alone in the effort anymore. "I've been waiting ten years for you," I told Chris. The cavalry had arrived!

Don't let anyone tell you that a learning community isn't important or that building a learning network of smart, talented people isn't worth the time. Our school took a chance and invested in the professional development of six teachers through PLP. I'm not sure the administration knows what they've unleashed. Where there was one, now there are six. These teachers are walking testimonials to the power of PLP. My hope is that next year there will be six more, and that we'll continue to grow and share and learn from each other.

On a separate but equally exciting note...You'll notice a change in the appearance of our blog. Another Christmas present I received this holiday was visit from my blogging partner and bff Susan Davis! Susan and her husband left the warm environs of Houston for the cold, blustery weather of Baltimore (go figure!). We never have enough face-to-face time, but we were able to make some needed changes to our blog. Now we just need to start blogging more regularly....

Happy Learning, Happy Sharing, and Happy New Year Everyone!