Monday, July 25, 2016

It Takes A Village

As a parent, I have quickly learned the true meaning of “it takes a village.” With two under two, my hands are full. Inevitably, one is crying or crawling in the direction of danger, but I am so fortunate to parent with a strong partner – a father who truly understands the inner-workings of the small, sensitive girl type.

Raising children is incredibly challenging – even in an ideal situation. I am lucky to be surrounded by a large, very involved, extended family. My whole life has been filled with family functions and outings to the countless museums, day trips, and birthday celebrations. My grandparents on both sides, my parents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, and cousins are precious people in my life, and I have been even more blessed in the last two years to watch all of these people love my children in ways that I cannot. Currently, this love mostly involves giving my oldest daughter cookies, but I am sure that these roles will continue to evolve as my daughters get older. It takes a village.

Educating students and preparing them for “the real world” is an insurmountable feat. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, students must be tech-savvy, media literate and effective communicators in multiple formats. They need to be able to think critically, analyze, and engage in a fast-paced, ever-evolving society. These skills are not ones that they will acquire in a lesson, a day, or even a school year. They must repeatedly be taught, refined, and honed. Again, it takes a village to educate one child.

We do not live in vacuums. Even though it might seem like a school, community, or town is representative of the entire world to our students, there is so much beyond what they can see and fathom in their schools. The same sentiment is true for us. Outside of our own schools, there are different perspectives, ideas, methods, and people who have so much to share and wisdom to provide. As society, technology, and ideas quickly evolve, I know I find myself running to keep up. Because of this feeling, I am so grateful for my village – my personal learning network – that has helped inform me, encourage me, and provide me with great resources. The people who make up this PLN are the people I engage with on a daily basis. They are my colleagues in my school and my district. They are the speech coaches with whom I spend countless hours on cold Saturdays scoring tournaments. They are the people that I talk to both frequently and infrequently on Twitter, who encourage, reply, comment, and share articles, perspectives, and wisdom. Again, being in this profession often requires a village of collaborators to encourage each of us to be our very best.

How do we best utilize our professional PLN?

1. Read.

The NEAEdutopia, the NYT Learning NetworkEducation WeekISTEtech blogs, and teacher blogs – there are so many organizations to access with the latest on educational policy, tools, practices, and methodologies. These resources are easy to find, browse, and provide support to educators. Scrolling through Twitter, it is easy to spot interesting articles, resources, and links to more information about a variety of educational topics. Clicking a few links can lead to fantastic resources and information. Just as we encourage our students to read, we too should read to learn more about the ever-changing ideas of our field.

2. Attend conferences and engage in professional development.

In the past few years, I have forced myself to present at conferences. For my first few years especially, I struggled with the idea that I had nothing new to offer or lacked the experience to share ideas. Thankfully, I had a friend who dragged me with her to a #edcamp. At my first #edcamp in Wisconsin, I realized that every person has something to share – regardless of years in the profession. We are all unique and have creative ideas. It is innately within us as educators. As such, it is important to share and speak out. Recently, I have made it a goal to present at more structured conferences. I found that by collaborating with peers over presentations, I learn more about my practice than I ever realized possible. Preparing for a presentation has challenged me to reflect upon my practices – not just what I do, but also why I do what I do in the classroom. This metacognitive exercise is invaluable and as a result of challenging myself to do this, I have learned so much. 

Professional development that occurs locally at the school and district levels can also provide meaningful experiences. While we don't love every meeting we sit in, we can gain some insight, perspective, or tool that we might not have thought about before by being open, receptive, and engaged. 

3. Listen.

Listening is the most underappreciated facet of literacy. We are all often too busy and bombarded with messages of every kind to truly take the time to stop and listen. It is essential for us to allow ourselves time to listen – to experts, to colleagues, and even to ourselves. By listening, we can reflect and understand the ideas and perspectives others to even greater levels than we might have imaged.

4. Speak.

Along with listening, we need to speak – kindly and openly. It is better when we work together. The load, which is already heavy, becomes lighter. Our ideas and practices become richer when we share. Ultimately, our business is about kids and community. We all want what’s best for them. We simply need to share our best ideas and selves to provide that for them. Again, it takes a village.

Tweets by @Steph_SMac