Today I had the pleasure of participating in the #LeadLAP Twitter chat and was once again reminded of just how powerful personal learning networks are.
Education in America is a funny thing. Teachers are encouraged to promote collaboration and collective learning every day for students, but we are typically isolated in our classrooms and given very few opportunities to engage with each other during the work day.
This creates an environment where educators have very little face time with their peers, making it difficult to build relationships and collaborate in any meaningful way. And because of the heavy responsibility of fostering relationships and inspiring learning for 150+ students every day, our emotional and mental energy is often sapped by the time the dismissal bell rings.
It’s hard to know what the answer is, quite honestly, on a large scale. From underfunding for schools to leadership that can be slow to change, it feels impossible.
But for those like-minded educators out there who want a change, take heart. We don’t have to wait on the budgets and class schedules and construction of our school to shift in order for us to build collaboration and camaraderie.
Here are a few things I’ve done over the years to foster those important relationships within the current structure of our educational system.
- Set aside 30 minutes of time each week to meet with your team. Be it grade level, content, or just those teachers you naturally gravitate toward, find time to meet with people in your building who inspire and empower you. Use that time to reflect, share teaching strategies, or discuss your strengths and growth areas. Keep the conversations uplifting and solutions-focused as best you can so that you leave that time and place feeling energized and seen.
- Seek out feedback and insight from school leaders you trust. One of the most professionally rewarding relationships I have has grown out of a deep need I had of tackling a challenging situation with a student. I walked into the office of my assistant principal earlier this year with tears in my eyes and simply said, “I don’t know what to do here.” He gave me time to share, listened to me, and together we developed a plan to help this child. I learned many valuable lessons in this experience, the most significant being that it is okay to admit when you need something. From your principal to the leader of your grade level, find a person you respect who has a bit more experience than you and let them walk with you through the mess. You will both be stronger for it.
- Make time for your own personal growth and development. We educators tend to be laser focused on helping our students grow while neglecting our own needs. The oxygen mask example still rings true: you cannot help someone if you’re not helping yourself first. Whether it’s on Saturdays mornings while you sip that second cup of coffee or a weekday evening after dinner, find time to invest in yourself. Read a book by one of your favorite education authors. Or listen to an education-related podcast. Maybe just write a few paragraphs of self-reflection on your practice this year. Whatever strikes your fancy, just do it.
At the end of this school year, I’ll be walking into my second decade of teaching. I have grown immensely over these ten years, and I couldn’t have done it without relationships. People pouring their knowledge and expertise into my open, willing-to-learn soul. And I couldn’t have done it without pouring into myself.
So as we continue on in this second semester of the school year, I encourage you to look for ways that you can use the relationships with people around you – and your relationship with yourself – to help you grow. And I can’t wait to hear how this practice molds and shapes you. Find me on Twitter and tell me about it!