Professional Development

A school leader I’ve met a few times says that if you learn, it’s your own fault. He’s a pretty amazing guy, very charismatic, but also incredibly practical. He said once during a training that it’s the job of school leaders to train up people so that they grow out of their jobs. It’s not because he doesn’t believe in keeping good teachers, but the best educators are the ones who keep growing, and for some, that means growing into other positions, either within the school or beyond it.

I had the opportunity to go to another school in my district today and observe. It’s very different from the one I serve in, with a very different population and focus, having lots of very cool things going on, from a STEAM-focused class that integrated science and art and writing and discussion toward a large-scale project to practice for a musical performance using a variety of instruments to tell a story. I had some particular things to be on the lookout for, but I found myself looking at general practice in the building more than anything else.

I saw a school that takes great pride in the work they’re doing with kids. I saw teachers who are trying to do right by the kids they serve, providing them instruction that makes sense for where they are. I saw teachers and support staff who have followed a calling. None of the work they did with kids came off as being a chore–they were doing it because they love the kids and want to see them grow. Everyone I spoke with were respectful of the kids they serve, excited to be doing this work, and though they acknowledged the challenges they face, they were generally happy to be there.

I’ve felt incredibly critical of everything lately but I haven’t known quite what to do about those feelings. I’ve been critical of myself, wondering if I’m doing right by the people I serve, by our mission and vision, in any and all aspects of the role I play in our school, and imposter syndrome has won more days than I have. I’ve been critical of others, trying desperately to reframe frustration into curiosity, remembering that change takes time and that all of this is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve been critical of the world we live in, with all the public shaming of teachers and the work we’re trying to do going on. When I try to talk about things, it comes off as complaining, which isn’t my intent. When I hold it all in, I just get angry.

But today, I got to observe somewhere else entirely and see what was going on in another school, with teachers who have challenges, who are tired, who teach differently than I would, who help kids create music and art and words and connections. I couldn’t be critical…what they do is valuable and they’re serving the kids they have, not the ones they wish they had. It’s very different from my own school just looking into classrooms and seeing the instructional practices in action. I’d be curious to talk to teachers in more depth about their practice…what they’re content with and what they wish for.

It was different…but it was very good. Sometimes professional development goes beyond the conference or the webinar. Sometimes it comes from watching other people do your job with the kids they serve differently than you would with the kids you serve. Sometimes it comes from talking to someone with challenges that are very different from yours, not to commiserate, but to see things a bit differently. Sometimes professional development is simply suspending judgment long enough to just notice things…what’s on the wall, in the bookcase, how kids are responding to text, how teachers are responding to kids, and how kids are responding to each other.

It was a good day. I learned some things and it’s all my fault. And I think I grew a bit.

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