What Happens When Teachers Grow?

I like to argue (let’s call it “debate”) and I like to learn.  Recently I was thinking about how I’ve grown and changed as an educator throughout my career and, thanks to the things I’ve learned along the way, realized that if time-travel was real then I would be able to have some very intense arguments with myself!  

There are topics in education that I’ve changed my opinion on, a full 180 degrees.  In other cases I’ve slightly modified and shifted my views based on things I’ve learned and experienced.  Also, along with my ever-evolving educational philosophies, there are a certain segment of my beliefs that have been strengthened by things I’ve learned.  Throughout my educational career I’ve taken the time to sit down and, literally, rewrite my educational philosophy five different times. It’s very interesting (to me anyway!) to see how my views have shifted over the years.  

I’m sure, if you’ve been teaching for more than a couple years, that you’re able to see changes in your own educational beliefs as well, they’re completely normal and (I would argue) expected.  As educators we are surely life-long learners; when we learn, we change. How has your educational philosophy changed throughout your career? This question should take some time for you to answer.  If you haven’t been sitting down to think about this regularly over the years, then you may not even be aware of how much your opinions have changed. Take some time to think about it…

Beyond nudging you to think about your educational philosophy and how it’s changed (a great practice in and of itself) I want to encourage you to think about why you’ve changed as well.  I can trace most of the changes in my educational philosophy to four different things (in alphabetical order): 

  1. Colleagues:  I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really wonderful educators tracing all the way back to my teacher training program.  Keeping an open mind, watching and listening, and having philosophical conversations with my colleagues has allowed me to constantly learn and adapt my educational practice over time.
  2. Experiences:  Living and traveling internationally has given me the chance to see many different views on all sorts of topics.  Not only have I seen education through many different lenses but I’ve also had the chance to learn about how cultural expectations, languages, and religious and political views can impact a person’s philosophy on education and life.  
  3. Further Education:  Whether masters courses, educational workshops, conferences, online courses, or in-school PD opportunities, I never pass up a chance to learn from someone new.  The experiences of others can be just as valuable as our own. By putting myself in a position to network and learn from others I know I’ve been able to grow considerably.
  4. Reading/Listening:  Teachers and educators have taken the internet by storm.  Between the amount of educational books available to be read (or listened to) on digital devices, the volumes of educational blogs, oodles of podcasts and information on social media platforms such as Twitter, there is literally too much to read and/or listen to.  Digging in and finding interesting and thought provoking educational material isn’t even difficult now days…honestly, if you’re not doing this yet, this should be the first thing you look to do! (Listening to educational podcasts would also be a GREAT way to improve English language skills!!)

From a great article I read a while ago called, Why The Best Teachers Change Their Minds:

“The best teachers change their mind because things themselves change. 21st century learning is, above all else, diverse, interdependent, and formless. Technology, culture, academic standards, assessment forms, and the cost–and format–of higher education all evolve endlessly.”

Of the four different things that have helped me grow so much as an educator the easiest and quickest way to have my thinking challenged is the last one, reading and listening online.  With that in mind I want to start sharing some interesting articles and blogs I’ve read recently. I’ll start this week with an Earth Day inspired set of great articles and videos.  I’m hoping that by having a look at some of the things I share over the next few weeks you’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper and find a way to improve your practice even more 🙂



Be a Learner to be a Leader

The mini-bio posted on my blog says that “I’m an Associate Principal at an international school in Quito, Ecuador. That’s my job but only one piece of who I am; other parts include brother, friend, educator, traveler, reader, risk taker and sports enthusiast.”  The problem, I’ve recently realized, with this bio is that it’s missing a few pieces.  The first piece, most people wouldn’t necessarily include in a bio, “I’m not as good at any of these things as I’d like to be.”  The other part is that I’m a learner, trying to grow, and be better at all of these things and more!  

On our most recent holiday Amy and I traveled to the Galapagos, wow, what a trip!!  During the trip we met some really interesting people, none more interesting to me than our naturalist guide.  He’s been guiding in Galapagos for 26 years and knows A LOT!  Throughout the week, if I wasn’t underwater looking at all the amazing marine animals then you could surely find me walking along side our guide asking him questions or just listening to what he had to say.  On one of our walks he said something that got me thinking deeper, he mentioned his recertification process for being a Galapagos naturalist guide.

You see, it makes sense…to guarantee the best quality naturalist guides they require them to attend regular classes to learn about the new scientific research and biological information being learned through research in the Galapagos.  The guides then need to demonstrate their knowledge in order to maintain their license to guide, thus ensuring that each guide meets a certain level of competence.  This all makes perfect sense and is incredibly logical, I mean who wants a poor guide with outdated knowledge?!?  

This got me thinking about my career, who wants a poor educator with outdated knowledge?  

I hope the answer to that question is rhetorical.  As educators we all seem to have a predisposition towards being up-to-date on the best educational practices available.  However, it’s not easy, especially from an international post where resources may not be as readily available as in our home countries.  So what do we do to ensure that we’re the best we can be?

Going back to my bio – I’m adding “learner” to my bio because it truly is a piece of who I am.  I work to read as much as possible about current educational research and best practice.  I try to build my network of resources and work hard to improve a little bit each day.  It is one of my personal goals to be a better person today than I was yesterday.  That includes professionally AND personally.  

I’ve realized over the last few years that life is reflected very often in our jobs and vice versa.  Reading this great blog post the other day made me start thinking about how important this really is to my life.  I’ve often worked to be better at my job by applying my outside life to the things I do at school but I’ve never gone so far as this article suggests, I’m going to give it a try.  Similarly this article about 10 activities you can do at lunch to make yourself a better professional/educator/person.  They’re not difficult, nor are they things that are boring, have a look and think about them the next time you walk out for lunch.

It’s a joy working with such dedicated and professional colleagues.  Knowing that the people who’ve read this will actually go out and think a little deeper about how they can grow is exciting, we’ve got such an amazing community here at AC – it’s inspiring!!  

My EdCamp Leadership Experience

Five out of my last six summers have been spent either in Bethlehem, PA at Lehigh University or in Miami at the PTC.  However, having already completed my goals at those fine institutions I figured that this summer I’d focus on spending time with family and friends instead of racing from one spot to the next.  That being said, and as I mentioned in my last 2 Cents post, I still had professional learning plans for the summer.

I’m about half way through The Multiplier Effect and the #admin2b Twitter Chats have been excellent, even though I missed a couple due to travel.  More to come on that when I’ve finished the book.

Similarly, I’m rolling along nicely on Insights:  How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions which I’m reviewing this summer for Middleweb.com.

Today, I want to reflect on the amazing experience I had yesterday at the edCamp Leadership unconference in Chicago.  This was my first unconference and it far exceeded my already high expectations!  For those who’ve never been…basically when you show up there is no schedule, this gets set during the first half hour or so as people bring ideas forth (or share on a Google Doc) and offer up different topics.  For the most part these are discussion sessions instead of teaching or “sage on the stage” style presentations.

The edCamp Leadership idea has been around for a while but this was the first year that it was coordinated on such a grand scale.  There were 17 sites around the country involved on the same date, at the same time.  #edcampldr was on fire all day long as people shared all the amazing learning that was happening at their specific sites.  I attended in Chicago where we were hosted by the amazing crew at East Leyden High School, huge shout out to them!

At each session there was something new for me, from personalized learning to, standards based grading, to Google Hangouts, even the session about “Getting Started in a New District” was interesting as I’m preparing to move into my new school, Academia Cotopaxi in Quito, Ecuador.  The insights and perspectives that were shared throughout the day were eye-opening for me in many ways.  As someone who’s been working in international schools more than US schools throughout my career I don’t always identify with the struggles that US based educators present.  However, during EdCamp Leadership the conversations weren’t about state laws, unions, or political mumbo jumbo; every discussion I heard was focused on being a better educator for the benefit of the students.  It didn’t matter if someone was working in a school in Illinois, Wisconsin, China, or Mars…it was all about the kids, anyone could follow these conversations.

Along with all the wonderful professional learning that was happening throughout the day I was excited to meet some of the amazing educators who I’ve been following on Twitter for the last couple years.  Having been in China and struggling to access the internet at times, let alone social media, many of these outstanding educators have been my source of professional information, whether they knew it or not.  It was inspiring to meet so many wonderful educators, it was truly an all-star lineup of educational leaders from the midwest region!

Finally, and perhaps the biggest take away for me, was the amazing connections that all of these educational leaders had already established…many without ever meeting face to face!  Lots of these people were clearly friends prior to this unconference but it was shocking to learn that so many of them had, so far, only met via Twitter, Voxer, or some other form of social media.  These educators, who previously may have functioned in isolation at their respective schools had found friends, mentors, and resources without leaving the comfort of their homes or schools.  The collegial atmosphere and laughter at lunch time and throughout the day was inspiring beyond words, awesome stuff.

EdCamp Leadership was my first edcamp but it most definitely won’t be my last!!  I look forward to maintaining the connections I made yesterday and as I continue to learn from these amazing educators.  If you’ve ever thought about attending an edcamp then stop hesitating and get moving…have a look here for edcamps coming up near you.

A Parting 2 Cents

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing my 2 Cents!  For the last SCIS version of my 2 Cents I’m going to be a bit more long winded than usual.  However, I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these four things.

Personally, for my summer, I’ll be working on organizing a visa to Ecuador, spending time with family and friends in America, getting back to working out and eating healthy, and acting as the Officiant in my sister’s wedding just days before Amy and I take off for Quito.  During all of that time I’ve also committed to reading two professional books (one for an online book chat and the other to review for Middleweb) and attending a 1-day “Ed Camp” in Chicago.  I’m excited for these professional opportunities which have all come via my professional learning community (PLC).

My recommendations for the summer:

1.  Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the winter to really get anything productive going.  It’s too dark in the mornings and dreary at night, who wants to work out?  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

3.  Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got Game of Thrones book 5 waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our middle school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

4.  Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the SCIS community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!