I've never been a good waiter.
And by "waiter", I don't mean the person who serves you food and drinks at a restaurant. I mean, a person who longs for something to happen and is impatient.
When I was little, I hated waiting for Christmas. I would make an Advent chain come early November. The links would wrap around my bedroom, as if to say, "Girl, you started this countdown WAY too early!"
I also hated waiting for a new school year to start. I would lay out my new shoes and uniform (Catholic school) days before the first day, just to have everything ready.
A watched pot never boils, they say. But when you are waiting for news, to know which direction life will go, it is very hard not to watch that pot. And with each passing second where no bubbles form (no boiling), frustration begins to build.
And so I have no choice but to wait. But I hate the wait.
She climbed the steps to the diving board, a line of children waiting to jump behind her. Mop of blonde hair, pink bathing suit, thin arms and legs. She took two steps forward, turned back around, and climbed down from the diving board. She went to the back of the line of children. One by one, they jumped off- cannonball, running leaps, twists in the air. As her turn came again, she climbed the steps, took two steps forward...turned around and climbed off the diving board.
This happened many, many times.
I stood, my feet baking on the hot pavement on one of the most sweltering days of the year so far. My daughter, Megan, really wanted to jump off the diving board but every time she got on top, she decided she couldn't do it. We watched the other kids jump. I told her I thought the scariest part was the last few steps, when there was no railing to hang onto. I said she could do it! But I mostly believed there would be no jumping off the diving board on this hot day.
Then, one time, she didn't climb down. She stepped forward again, again, again and then jumped into the air. Splash! A she swam to the ladder, all the kids on the line cheered. I cheered the loudest. She got right back on the line to jump off again. The fear was gone now and she just wanted to keep on jumping. She added songs and dance moves with each jump, her confidence soaring.
And so, as I reflect on this moment and the moments that followed it over the weekend up until today, I think it is true that "we must do the things that scare us" This could be a hard conversation, an unpopular decision that you know is the right one, taking a chance to interview for a new position. It is scary to leave the familiar, to take a stand, to speak your truth, to realize parts of yourself you have been burying. As scary as it is, there is frustration when you climb off the diving board. When you get so close to taking a chance, only to back away. At some point, the pain of not being brave is worse than it would be to simply face your fears and jump.
For Megan, a cool pool awaited and a sense of accomplishment and pride. The outcomes of my leaps are yet to be determined. But maybe it's not about what happens after you leap, but that you had the courage to leap at all.
Last year, one of my third graders was the biggest dinosaur expert you ever want to meet. He knew names of dinosaurs I could not even pronounce. (He corrected my pronunciation a few times) His birthday cake was dinosaur themed. He read about dinosaurs whenever there was a spare moment. Everyone in the class knew of his passion for dinosaurs.
So, if I were to teach a lesson on dinosaurs, you can bet your bonnet (ha!)I would include this student wherever I could. Allowing him to share his passion and knowledge would be good for several reasons. He would have the chance to share his learning, which is always powerful. He would possibly reach some students who are more interested in what a peer says than the teacher. Our classroom culture would affirm and celebrate his knowledge and passion. I would be modeling that we can always learn from each other and the teacher does not own the knowledge.
But what if I taught a lesson on dinosaurs and acted as if I were the one who knew the most and had all the knowledge? What if I didn't recognize that he had both passion and expertise in this area? What if I made him sit quietly and take notes from me, a person who really only knows about dinosaurs from what I've read in a textbook?
One of the reasons I love to write is it helps me know what I think. Sometimes I can't fully access my thoughts until I write them and explore them in this manner. For several reasons, I've been asking myself what are my views on professional development for teachers and other educators.
When I think about my dinosaur-loving student, I know that it is right to know your students' interests, passions and areas of knowledge and then allow them to share what they know. Why isn't this always the case with professional development?
I believe that professional development starts with relationships. Knowing the teachers and their interests, passions, and expertise helps the facilitator to work with the knowledge that already is there. Not assuming everyone needs to start at square one and recognizing that there could be a teacher in the group whose knowledge on the topic surpasses the facilitator's expertise in a specific area. If that were the case, the facilitator could certainly allow that teacher to share his/her experiences and wisdom on the topic. The whole group would benefit from sharing the presentation, much like the whole class benefitted when the dino-loving student contributed.
As a teacher of 17 years experience, it hurts when you feel your knowledge, expertise and passion aren't acknowledged. It might not be professional to say that, but the truth is, it does. It makes you feel less inclined to want to share or contribute when you feel you aren't seen or recognized for what you passionately learn and practice. I think a professional development experience should not leave a teacher feeling this way. You should feel energized, excited, maybe a little nervous about implementing your new knowledge. There might be some cognitive dissonance. But you should always feel your contributions and who you are was valued and honored in the experience.
My work with the Long Island Writing Project taught me that teachers learn best from teachers. And we are all teachers.
We are all learners. The LIWP always believed in setting up comfortable, welcoming spaces for teachers. Providing room for them to share their thinking and questions. Learning about each other, often through our writing. You can learn and grow so much more when you feel seen. You can't be seen unless someone takes the time to really look at you, really listen, really learn your story.
Putting this all together, I think professional development starts with relationships. Then it allows for collective meaning-making and understanding. Teachers contribute what they know and believe and their expertise is recognized. When they feel seen and appreciated, they will be more willing and likely to take the next steps in their journey of learning and growth. They will be more inclined to trust the facilitator because they know that their voice matters and their contributions have been recognized.
What are your thoughts on professional development from either the teacher's perspective or the facilitator's perspective?
Summer is a sigh.
A deep exhale for a breath you didn't know you were holding.
Summer is an ending
To a school year and to faces and names that filled your days.
Summer is a beginning
New camp groups, new friends, counselors.
A fresh start.
Summer is picking up all that you put on a shelf
when there was no time to look past the necessities.
Summer affords the time to clean out closets
organize bookshelves, redo the pantry,
Shake out the cobwebs, shake off the fear.
Summer is a seat in the sun, sipping strawberry water.
Summer is a different rhythm with unscheduled days.
Summer is a ferry ride to a city you've never been.
Summer is lobster and fruity cocktails and s'mores.
Summer is ice pops and sunscreen and freedom.
Summer is a sigh.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski