professional development

R – The older I get, the more I find myself asking this question: am I a better teacher this year than I was last year? Was I a better teacher last year than the year before? Why or why not?

One of the many benefits (and joys!) of working with student teachers is constantly having the dialogue around, “why did you do that?”; “why did you make that choice in class today”; “why did you approach teaching the song that way?” And please note, the mentor and the mentee are both the ones asking those questions of each other. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Jarika taught me more during her student teaching than I taught her. How can that possibly be? She questioned everything I did – brilliantly –  and I had to resolve why I did things certain ways. In doing so, I realized that I could do many of those things better. But here’s the catch: unfortunately, we live in a society and culture where asking questions is perceived as either weakness, or a passive/aggressive way of saying “I think you might be wrong.” Consequently, more often than not, whenever I question people, they don’t actually hear me, they instead obsess over reading between some imagined lines.

And that pisses me off.

Why is questioning met with so much reticence and skepticism? And is there a bigger detriment to growth in our profession than the failure to accept questioning as a healthy and welcomed thing?(!!!) When I ask, “why did you do that”, or “how do you think that accomplishes your goal”, or “what is the point to that”, what I actually MEAN is, “I WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW, AND I’M TRYING TO GET INSIDE YOUR HEAD AND LEARN FROM YOU AND YOUR PERSPECTIVES!” I may or may not agree with you, but that’s not the point and I’m not judging (there’s the word!) you! I just want to learn more!

Where am I going with this…. well, one of the safe havens for questioning and learning and poking around the edges and diving into less charted territory is professional development. Not in the, “you’re going to learn all about Common Core today and we’re going to teach you how to incorporate it into the ridiculously, already inadequate amount of time you see your kids each week” kind of way, but rather in the digging deeper and gaining new perspectives on what you do kind of way. On Thursday, October 24th, there is a statewide arts conference being held in Orono. This blog post isn’t an advertisement for it; there isn’t an arts teacher in Maine who hasn’t already had that information passed on to them several times prior to reading this (if they chose to ignore it, that’s a different story, but that does tie into this post…). There are over THIRTY teachers in Maine presenting workshops. These aren’t outsourced “professional speakers”, but real teachers, who work in our same state with our same kids, struggling with our same struggles, confronted with the same challenges. 3rd year teachers. 37 year teachers. The Maine Arts Assessment Initiative was established to get people everywhere to ask questions and learn from each other for the purpose of moving forward in their craft. The irony of course being that doing so means that our own students become the real beneficiaries.

I do not get why an alleged professional educator would not be jumping out the window to get at attending a conference like this. “I’m already attending another.” Oh. So there’s a limit as to how much you’re willing to grow as a professional. “There’s nothing there that interests me”. Good call. Let’s perpetuate a culture based on instant gratification (“likes”) as opposed to actually working to get better at what you do. “The only presenters are other teachers… since when did they become the experts I should have to listen to?” They aren’t experts. They’re teachers. And they have something to share with colleagues… things that will cause people to question and to grow. I though THAT was the point of professional development?!!! “I’m not going to learn anything new”. Then do us all a favor and leave the profession, there’s enough mediocrity in education without you contributing to it.

There are legitimate reasons not to attend every professional development opportunity that comes along, I know that and so do you. This blog post isn’t debating that point. But in the final analysis, it’s not about October 24th or any other conference (there’s a general music conference going on TODAY in Augusta that promises to be a sensational professional development). It’s about questioning. It’s about growing. Am I a better teacher now than I was last year? Derek Lawrence was one of my Chamber Singers when I began my gig at Winnacunnet High School in the Fall of 1996. He’s an extraordinary person and I’m blessed to be able to still be in contact with him. This morning I came across this on my facebook newsfeed; Derek wrote the following, and he basically says it all:

When people say “I really want to learn X” it seems a more accurate statement should be “I really want to have X skill. I want to have this skill developed to a high enough level that it is effortless for me to accomplish those things that I want to be able to do.” Skill does not develop in the absence of work however. The difficulty is that those people who seem to possess this skill in high degree also discipline themselves daily to maintain and build on this skill. It is never something that can be stored in a drawer and pulled out for show; it is something that must be consistently pursued each day and in that sense – the dedicated beginner and the master have much in common.

Can I hear an “Amen!”?

Conference flyer4

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