I just got back from my annual opportunity to recharge, reflect, and renew at the AMLE National Conference. So many people say these days that professional development in its traditional format has lost its relevance, and I get what they are saying, but I also know that hearing a powerful message, by an educational change agent, that hits you in your “why”, can make a lasting impression, no matter where it is shared.
I make this annual trip, sharing and growing with others, because these three days change and enhance who I am. I don’t walk into the sessions offered looking for gimmicks and silver bullets; I find challenges and inspiration that I reflect on for days and continue to grow from for months. This experience is a fertilization, a watering, that allows my roots to gain strength so that when I am left to the elements of my day job, I can continue to grow and prosper. It is not just three days of professional development. It is a lasting learning opportunity.
As I am writing this, I am sitting on an airplane, heading back to my school in the middle of November. It is this time of year that often leaves teachers scratching their heads and throwing up their hands in frustration. In my district we are closed for business the day before Veterans Day, we have a week off at Thanksgiving, then have two more weeks off at the end of December. I have heard teachers make the statement that teaching at this time of year is so hard because there is a constant cycle of teach, forget, re-teach. The breaks in schedule and routine make it such a struggle to provide any learning that really lasts. I get it, but I also see this as a powerful reflective opportunity. If we cannot teach students concepts that can sustain a long weekend or a couple of weeks off, are we really teaching anything that matters?
As a principal, it is my job to provide professional development for my teachers. What I have come to understand is that there is no right way or wrong way to provide instruction to teachers. Some teachers prefer sit and get. Some teachers prefer flipped instruction. Some prefer small groups. Some prefer school wide guidance. So often it has little to do with the format of the instruction. It is the content, the question, the long standing reflection that results from the training that leads to lasting learning. I go to the AMLE National Conference once a year, yet the experience is able to sustain me for 365 days. The same is true in your classroom. Student learning is not a result of necessarily scripting small group, whole group, centers, or any other differentiated model. What makes learning last requires so much more.
As a teacher your job is to make memories. Memories are what learning is made of. The reason the AMLE conference sticks with me each year is because of the personal connections I can make. It is a result of being challenged and engaged in ways that make me challenge my why. I am given opportunities to wrestle with what I already know and make connections to what I don’t. I am encouraged to take risks and make personal and professional connections that will pick me up when I fall down.
In your classrooms, start with making your learning environment safe. Make it a place where students can be challenged. Make it a place where falling down is welcome and encouraged. If you feel that what you are teaching will not be retained beyond a few days away from you, question, is this really what needs to be taught and how. Teaching to try and find a silver bullet or a quick fix of compliance or content regurgitation will not allow students to find any lasting meaning. We need to work to create memories. memories that last are rooted in emotion. They are rooted in challenge and growth.
This is an amazing time of year to be a teacher. Yes, it is a struggle, but this time of year will also push you to get better and focus on learning that lasts.
Looking for more guidance: Check out Dave’s book It’s Like Riding a Bike: How To Make Learning Last a Lifetime
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