Wrapping up the “back to work” week left me feeling energized and excited for the new school year to start. I’m teaching two new preps, sophomores and AP Lang, and, whereas in the past looking a blank calendar spiked my anxiety, last week my mind danced with literacy possibilities.
One point of origin for my ebullient confidence comes from small but important changes I’ve noticed over the past handful of years in the organization of the professional learning routines I experience in the week before the kids come back.
Gone are the interminable days of marathon “sit-and-get” informational sessions, and with them the mad scramble on Friday afternoon to make sure Monday will be about welcoming students more than merely surviving the cacophony of controlled chaos.
Our back-to-school schedule included many of the typical, district-mandated informational reviews. It was obvious that our administrators did their best to keep that time from dragging or being wasted, and for that, I am grateful.
What differed most from previous years was the amount of time I was able to spend exploring my needs. I found myself presenting at our district ELA professional learning day, meeting with my instructional coach to hash out plans, debriefing with my intern teacher, checking in with with my first-year teacher mentee, and writing the first mentor text that I’ll share with our sophomores as we attack persuasive writing. Overall, I was given a great deal of flexibility in the decisions I made about how to best take advantage of my time, something I truly appreciate.
However, I can’t help but feel that we could take this experience one little step further. There is some part of me that wonders what would happen if I could design my own professional learning? What if I could work with my supervising administrator, and a few colleagues, to explore research and practices that could make me a better literacy teacher?
I’m trying to imagine a world where I could, along with some like-minded co-workers, explore my own professional learning path.
Who might enter into that learning with me?
There are some, I know who would walk blindly into the maelstrom, bringing with them knowledge and skills that would supercharge our efforts. Others would bring with them their positive energy and drive to grow. It takes people with different ideas, willing to share, confident in themselves.
I can think of more than one literacy leader from each of our high school campuses who would welcome, and have welcomed, the opportunity to collaborate across departments, or even content areas. This cross current of efficacy intrigues me and feeds my desire to interact with teacher leaders.
What might that look like?
The most authentic learning experiences that happen in my classroom unfold as the kids take ownership. In those magical moments I cease to exist and the kids fully shoulder their literacy growth. The engagement explodes in a quiet bang and for a few brief moments I sit down, take a breath and enjoy anonymity. This vortex forms spontaneously and when it does, I get out of the way. So often I wished to hit record and save those moments for times when I’m feeling discouraged.
This happens with adult learners too. I’ve seen it, been in the eye of the storm as it swirls around me. Whether in the hallway in a chance encounter, in team planning meeting, or at a district curriculum review day, there is strength in numbers, and I long soak up what others bring to the table.
Maybe it starts with a research text that ignites and unites the interest of our learning group. Perhaps a chapter from a professional text like – oh, I don’t know – something from Penny Kittle jump starts the vortex and teachers with similar goals, but different experiences find new territory to explore.
There might be readers and writers scattered haphazardly around the room. Some would whisper in pairs or stare pensively at their notebooks or a self-selected bit of research. Others might engage in lively and loud debate centered on the merits of a particular mentor text or skill. One or two tears might work their way out over the emotional connections writers build with their words or the connections readers build with the words of others.
I can see books being passed around, hear laughter erupting, and feel “eureka” moments; the language of learning.
What would be the result?
Teacher efficacy stands among the leading factors in student achievement and we can always push harder towards this ideal. When teachers find energy in each other, almost nothing threatens success.
The authenticity that stems from teachers who feel empowered by those around and above them produce positive results. They nurture young minds and walk beside them through their educational journey. They feel free to share their writing and save in the vulnerability demanded therein.
Ultimately, the goal for all professional learning is growth, whether pedagogical or practical; informational or emotional. Whatever the goal, I want to continue my journey in the company of others. This “work” that I’m exploring can’t be done in isolation, and, while I know some amazing people in our ELA department that push me to be better everyday, there is so much more to discover.
Charles Moore is excited to set forth on his 18th foray into education. He’s feeling humbled by his recent piece in Literacy Today, the ILA magazine. Working with the High School Section of TCTELA has been both a challenging and rewarding experience, forcing him to exercise muscles he didn’t know were there. Here is the link for TCTELA presentation proposals. The deadline is Sept. 4th. Charles is grateful that he gets to spend so much time with his family these days and looks forward to his son’s first year of organized football.