Sunday, March 10, 2019

Our Calling as Learners Who Teach/Lead


I learned about a group of educators who would be reading Reclaiming Our Calling by Brad Gustafson on Twitter. The author and an invited guest would facilitate an online conversation about the book through a Facebook Live event first immediately followed by a Twitter Chat. Both discussions were to be held in the evening for about an hour. Online participants could join these interactive conversations in both social media platforms or the one that worked best for them. The author and invited guest would start the conversation with key insights from the assigned chapters and participants could then jump in with comments on Facebooks or Tweets on Twitter. I was totally intrigued by the process.

As building principal who often lives in isolation when it comes to professional learning I was all in to try a new approach. This is the second book for Gustafson, and I was already familiar with his drive and relentless focus to create positive and meaningful experiences for students and staff. In this book, Gustafson shares four passions on how educators can “Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education” and how to adhere to our “Moral Foundations” of teaching and learning by “Reclaiming Our Calling” and keeping students at the center of our work.

The weekly online conversation centered around how to enhance and prioritize relevant learning experiences for our students and staff during the Facebook Live event, as well as the Twitter Chat. The professional learning for me came when I was able to listen and learn from educators all across the country as we shared out takeaways from assigned chapters. I was reminded of proven practices, gained new insights, and was constantly reminded what we choose to do in our role as educators matters a lot to our students as well as the staff we willingly serve. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from the four passions.

Gustafson reminds the reader “The Core of Our Calling” is “Learning that Lasts” (p. 40). To make learning “stick” for our students we’ve got to understand what is important to them as learners. To do this we must be more intentional with the discussions we have our students. “The conversation is the work.”...The important work of building relationships is done through conversation. It’s accomplished by being present and creating a place for students to be curious” (p. 62). Message for me...get into classrooms more often, sit down with students, discover their hopes, passions, and interests and make those incredibly important connections. By discovering what is relevant or important to them, I can then help them navigate where they can contribute and gain momentum to their own learning in order to make school not something they do, but experience.

Conversations with staff matter too AND being truly present when you are having them. Gustafson writes about educators who write personal reminders to themselves by writing “5-2” on their to-do lists. “The numbers represent the goal of having at least five meaningful conversations with individual staff members and writing two personal thank you notes each day. When we remind ourselves of what is real and write down what we want to stand firm on, we’re more likely to follow through. I’d like to challenge myself to do this with staff but morph it a bit and challenge myself to have five conversations with students each day as well, and write down two things I’ve learned in my school picture photo album. Not necessarily just to connect, but discover their dreams and interest. “When we start with relationships and practice acts of intentionally, we honor the whole leaner…” (p. 61).

I must admit my day as a principal can be extremely long and I am guilty of going into autopilot in order to accomplish the prioritized tasks I set out to do each day. Gustafson offered several strategies to “short-circuit” our autopilot mode. “It may sound simple, but the first strategy to short-circuiting your autopilot mode is to do something different each day to disrupt your routine” (p. 146). He recommended making small changes first before implementing change on the grand scale including being “more intentional about connecting with different students” (p. 147) and I’ll add staff. Which is why I am hopeful my morphed 5-2 strategy doesn’t just become an item on a checklist, but an opportunity to connect with our students and staff.

Although in order to do so I’ll need to be mindful of Gustafson’s strategy of being fully present to avoid autopilot mode. “Make it a habit to be mindful of where you are and whom you’re with” (p. 162). Including for me to physically stop moving, texting, speed walking, etc. and to get down to where students are at, look into their smile and lean in and listen. “The very best educators are able to see the perspectives of others while being able to navigate the system to meet the needs of their students. And the best way to understand somebody else's perspective to be fully present when you’re in the same spaces” (p. 160). Admittedly hard for me to do!

There are many more important “Passions of the Profession” in Gustafson’s book I highly recommend for teachers and administrators to revisit and consider, but my favorite really is found in his “Donut Theorem” (p. 178). He relates the crust of a donut to the (teaching and leading) traits we have, to do the work we love. The crust is incredibly important, but not near as wonderful as the jelly. “Your jelly represents your passions, curiosity, and strengths” (p. 179). My jelly continues to become a leader who provides avenues for teachers to become champions and implementors of effective instructional literacy practices in their classrooms at every opportunity. Every child deserves the right to be and become a reader in whatever avenue works for them as a learner.

It’s not often I carry around the same book with me for weeks at a time, reading a passage again, marking the text further, and making plans. At the end of our book study, a question was asked by Gustafson, “What are you going to do with the book?” Other than committing to making the changes I’ve shared in this post, I’ve purchased the book for a colleague I respect and admire tremendously and selfishly so I can lean in and learn, in order to continue to reclaim my calling as a learner who leads.

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