I feel like we are at a time in education where now more than ever, we need to be encouraging each other to find belonging in a professional community. We have communities within our neighborhoods, our places of worship, book clubs, sports teams, the list can go on and on.
How much are we not only encouraging but providing time for teachers, administrators, and other staff members to participate in a professional community to learn with? It doesn’t have to be leaving the district, although it’s great if you can; it might just be letting 4th-grade teachers from around the district get together, or social studies teachers, or librarians. I love it when my staff wants to go talk with other Network Administrators, System Administrators, PowerSchool administrators, etc. I always enjoy the time I get to go bounce ideas around with other technology directors.
Communities give us fresh ideas, fresh perspective, and that great feeling we all long for, a sense of belonging. It refreshes the soul and it helps us all be better in the work we do for kids.
Of course relationships matter. Has anyone ever regretted investing time and energy in building relationships with students or our peers? Does anyone ever truly think, “Boy was that a colossal waste of time!”?
I guess my ultimate question is, “Why do adults still have to be reminded of its value?”.
I have only officially been a leader in my current role for 3 years now. I guess you could call that my formal leadership experience. My informal leadership experience (not even sure what would fall under that category; speaking gigs, writing, organizing 10 years of Edcamps, I really am not sure) greatly outweighs my formal experience. It really doesn’t matter because what I’m getting at is that out of all of that, my best moments have been the time I have invested in others by listening, knowing, and understanding them as people first. The work-related or business stuff has always come second to me. It’s important for sure, but not as important what building good relationships can do for us.
What can building relationships do for us exactly? Well, I think it’s good for our overall health; I want the time spent fostering good relationships full of knowing people as people, not just someone I work with or just a student I teach, etc. That’s one of my favorite things about the team I lead now – we intentionally take small breaks in our day to talk about our lives, our families, and things that aren’t work-related. It almost always involves laughter. It’s intentional; like talking about that show everyone is currently binging or how someone on my team just went and stayed in a Hobbit cave with her husband (true story – Google it).
I wonder if there’s still folks though that question why we should do this? There must be with how many books and tweets and keynotes talk about its importance. Please let me be clear – I’m not saying it’s not important to talk about it. It is important. We all should want to hear about and experience new ways to connect with people; it’s one of the reasons I love getting to travel to conferences and meet people from all over the world. It’s the reason you hear so many people say that they get just as much out of (if not more than) what happens between sessions at conferences than some of the actual sessions. It’s why I’ve always said when speaking about being connected in digital spaces like Twitter that you get out of it what you put into it. The same goes for relationship building; it’s a give and take, and hopefully more and more we all take the “giving” approach to it.
Relationships should be the foundation of everything we do in our schools. It helps everyone better help everyone.
I recently started watching a new Netflix series called Diagnosis. Dr. Lisa Sanders has written a column for the New York Times about peoples’ undiagnosed medical conditions to seek feedback from the greater community since 2002. This has now been turned into a Netflix documentary series, with each episode following the life of an individual with a medical condition that has never been diagnosed.
I was hooked within minutes of the first episode. Not because of the person’s unusual medical situation (while interesting) but the way they approached getting this person an official diagnosis for a condition that has been plaguing the patient for years. No longer was Dr. Sanders’ column just one-way communication, but now they are encouraging readers to interact with the column more than ever; specifically through a recorded video message to share their thoughts on what the person’s condition could actually be. It is all about casting a wide net for help and leaning heavily on the collective knowledge of “the room”, or in this case, the entire world. It was fascinating to see the high level of response the young lady in episode 1 received about her condition, within the United States and well beyond our country or our continent.
Both the doctor and the patient were fascinated and overwhelmed with the level of response they received. As an educator, I have encouraged and watched other educators do this to grow themselves professionally for over 10 years. In our age of information abundance and connectedness, we have the ability to learn from anyone at any time; not just in a physical classroom at a physical school building. While the results were fantastic in this documentary, it felt like the medical profession is behind here. Are doctors not encouraged to do this to better themselves and better help their patients? Why is this still treated as an anomaly as we approach 2020?
Then this got me thinking on a “big picture” level about how this relates to teaching & learning. Are we creating opportunities for our students to reach beyond direct instruction and seek out learning opportunities elsewhere? What would happen if we encouraged this more? Students have lots of networks built up through the various mediums they use, but are we showing them (and allowing them to leverage) what’s truly possible? Which type of learning fosters more inquiry and creativity? We must think about what we want for our students and give them the opportunities they need to flourish.