Saturday, July 25, 2015

Finding Our Element - Part 2: Lessons from One Another

Part 2: Lessons from One Another

This is a continuation of a read Part 1, please click here:
“We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness.”
- Sir Ken Robinson

Growing up, I was what most teachers probably considered the textbook definition of a good student – I worked hard and I followed the rules. For most of my adult life, I’ve been a dedicated teacher. But not until this summer can I honestly say that I truly became a learner.

Late last spring, I attended a conference that brought New York educators together to talk literacy and learning. I was there to expand my perspective in meeting the challenges of successful Common Core implementation. I was also there because I was eager to officially meet two members of coveted “PLN”, Carol Varsalona and Emily Peterson. To that point, the interactions I had with each were limited to Twitter chats. But I knew that I held Carol and Emily both in such high professional regard, based on our exchanges capped at 140 characters. The work each does for students is what created my excitement to meet face-to-face.
Entering the conference room, I sensed an unexpected rush of adrenaline coming over me. I could immediately feel the impact of my personal connections, intensified by social media. Carol welcomed guests, and extended an invitation for others to join the learning she is part of moderating on #NYedchat. Simultaneously, I could see on my device that there was a lively backchannel occurring during this meeting on a related hash tag. I could sense the room…and the world becoming instantly smaller. And there was a current running through the room that could be attributed to one thing: passion.
If you've yet to experience something like this, it's not easy to put into words. For almost a year, we'd interacted with one another, sharing an excitement for connecting with other learners who work tirelessly for our kids and for our learning communities. To connect, in person, delivered me to the true purpose of social media and the role it can play in education: it’s about sharingsharing values, sharing resources, but best of all, sharing passion that collectively celebrates progress in our school communities. This initial experience inspired me to reconsider learning – my own professional learning.

We are Architects…of our Learning.

In the Educational Leadership article, “Architects of Summer”, Carol Ann Tomlinson warmly declares summer as a season of renewal and recharge for educators, as time away from school, learning something new, exploring something that enhances professional practice, and recalibration of one’s ethical compass are centerpieces. Interpreting these principles as a “connected educator,” has brought me to discover a true community of learners. This article was shared that day, by Carol, but its themes have remained with me ever since.
This summer, as an Architect of 
Connected Learning, I’ve:
1.     Revisited a leadership classic, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and devoured a classic in-the-making, Digital Leadership, by visionary, Eric Sheninger, recognizing the place each firmly holds in leadership team development and administrative licensing programs, due to each author’s strong core values and proven recipes for success.

2.     Partnered with a group of Middle Level Educators to better understand teens’ use of social media, while considering how to best share our learning with parents of middle schoolers.

3.     Co-organized and co-moderated a Twitter chat that provided a new appreciation for all that goes into my favorite regular chats, and the care and dedication on the part of the moderating teams. The preparation, transparency, and vulnerability in timely professional dialogue made this nothing short of an exhilarating experience.

4.     Interacted with innovative thinkers to expand my perspective on traditional school institutions like homework, meetings, and the power of the written word. What I learned was less about rejecting “the way we’ve always done it” and more about taking measures to consider steps needed to improve teaching, learning, and communication among members of our learning organizations.  

5.    Discovered the power of personalized professional support and enrichment. Having a daily commute that equals at least seven hours weekly, cellphone conversations and tools like Voxer have allowed me to connect with innovators, worldwide, whose professional work I greatly admire.

6.     Joined a blogging community willing to share resources, perspectives, and part of themselves that inspired me to take my most significant professional risk to date: sharing my voice. The outpouring of support, encouragement, and feedback has been heartwarming, and serves as a reminder as to why we must make time to provide those among our learning organizations with feedback.  

7.    Collaborated with a team of Long Island educators, eager to experience learning together, through an autonomous, choice-centered means: Edcamp. There’s much to be shared and celebrated in our schools, and we are just scratching the surface. Being a connected educator has afforded me the privilege to take part in conversations that are pushing the limits of conventional thinking and our definitions of passion-driven professional growth.

The best is yet to come…

In our role as learning leaders, we have the complex dual challenge to maintain an awareness of “the big picture” while remaining acutely in-tune with the details that will lead our learning organizations to expanding potential that benefits our students. But how do we do this? It starts by giving ourselves the permission to rediscover, reshape, and redefine those elements for which we are most passionate, remembering, we are learners, first. Passion-driven leadership fuels us to nourish our own learning appetites, allows us to help others to find and fuel their passions, and supports the success and culture of our organizations and the people who comprise it.

In The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson correlates determining and pursuing work with our individual talents and passions. Time with my son provides a window for how this looks for our children, every day. And time and relationships I have developed as a connected educator has assured me that finding my own element is the key to my own sense of well-being and success, which, in turn, can fuel learning for our students and communities.  Undoubtedly, embracing personal learning experiences is what will continue to shift our perspectives on our life’s work and purpose, as Learning Leaders.

The most important thing I discovered about learning this summer?

It begins...with us.

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