Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fear of the First Step

I think most people have a sense of fear.  Something...someone...somewhere...most people go through life sensing fear at some point.  This week we took our kids camping and as we were hiking in the bluffs of western Wisconsin I feared that any or all of our kids could go over the edge, get a snake bite, cut themselves whittling, or what I would do to them if they took the last marshmallow.  Sometimes that fear can stifle what could be a great experience.  We had a great time one went over the edge, the intricate designs of weaponry developed through whittling were fantastic, and we had enough marshmallows to send us away with a slight stomach ache.

Fear is so relative.  I wake up without pain, walk to work without any sense of danger, and I am able to provide for our family so we live comfortably in a great village. I realize that fear is different and am not trying to compare my fear to someone who doesn’t know where they will find their next meal, work, or something horribly worse.  The point is this...there are things that hold us back...and sometimes breaking out of our current normal can be frightening. My hope is that we can take a step out of the comfort zone and venture to a new place...knowing that fear may be part of that process.

There aren’t too many things I fear professionally.  I have a great school board, an incredible staff, and a wonderful community.  I think the majority of my fear is in continuing the status quo.  My only fear is that I look back on places I have been and groups I have been able to work with and come to the conclusion that they did not grow as much as they could have while I was there...and more importantly, continue to grow after I had left.  Establishing a culture where people can coexist and enjoy coming to work is the initial phase of change, but if that environment doesn’t turn into one of continuous growth, we’re closer to an amusement park than a school.  As I contemplated where we have been and how we should prepare our teachers for the upcoming year, I started to everything I am planning contributing to the status quo or am I helping our staff grow and move forward?  

I spend a great deal of time through this blog and on Twitter talking about creating an opportunity for student voice in classrooms.  It is truly important for our staff to take on the perspective of kids and allow them to own their learning process.  We have to go from the purveyors of content to the facilitators of growth.  This doesn’t mean we scrap everything we have been doing, it means we make a connection with kids so they begin, maintain, and extend a love for learning that takes them well beyond 13 years in our building.  In contemplating this perspective, I asked I providing this same environment for our teachers?

Dr. Leo Marvin via
I often turn to Twitter when planning and preparing for almost everything we do in school.  It has been and will continue to be an incredible place to learn.  This week I found a post by Wendy Lap entitled If Teachers Planned Inservice Training.  Though the post was meant to be humorous, it literally kept me up thinking...Good Lord, I do all of the things on “Don’t Do” list.  Binders of information...check.  Presentation for the whole group...check.  Humorous video to break the ice...check.  Building a newspaper and popsicle stick tower...check, check, double check.  Yep...all of it. I am not ready to can the whole process, but with an open mind, I clearly want to move in a direction that meets our group in a better capacity.  So...with the advice of  What About Bob’s Dr. Leo Marvin, I will be taking baby steps to improve what we do in our school and put our inservice in the hands of our staff.  Here are a few things that may help:

Inservice and professional development owned by staff: We have held techno days at our school where certain classes or sessions were offered to help staff learn new things to implement in their classrooms.  Our tech team has done a great job of planning and providing an opportunity for our staff to learn and grow in this area.  We ask what types of sessions they want to take in and find people willing to facilitate.  The issue has not been with the sessions, it has been with the time to explore.  We will still offer sessions based on what our staff want to learn, but this year we are providing less sessions and more time.  Staff will have the option of coming in for 2 days (and be compensated) to explore something new and start the year thinking about how to integrate some of those tools or revamp some of the others they have learned.  Session times will be posted...and our staff can choose to come in for a portion or all of the day.  We will have an open lab throughout the 2 days where staff can get help with any of the resources. Again, open, with no expectation to stay the entire time...just an opportunity to grow with help if needed.

Professional Growth Goal Resource Day: We are in the second year of our Professional Growth Model.  One of the issues with our process last year was strictly focused on the amount of time our staff members had to create their goals considering we rolled it out at the beginning of the year.  This year we are providing an opportunity for our staff to spend time with the teacher group that developed the model and talk through goal and potential evidence options prior to our students arriving.  This is an optional day and will hopefully allow our staff members to work through some of the logistics of a goal so it doesn’t cause as much stress when the year starts.

Modified Edcamp: I am a huge proponent of Edcamp style PD.  Utilizing the skill and expertise in our own building helps those who learn and those who facilitate.  The issue with running an Edcamp style PD in schools is simply that when people attend an Edcamp they choose to be there.  One of the reasons Edcamps are so successful is that you are putting hundreds of people in a room who have chosen to spend their Saturday growing as professionals.  That is not always the case outside of Edcamps.  In our modified Edcamp style, we will be asking staff from our school and 6 other districts what they would like to learn and if they would be willing to lead sessions.  We are scheduled to run two Edcamps this year for a group of schools in our area...the group planning these days has been incredibly dynamic and we are really looking forward to moving in this direction.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement: At the end of the day...these are still days.  We are hoping to move from “Event PD” to using those days as check in for continuous growth.  Learning doesn’t have to be driven by schedule, but due to the structure of how our public system works, there are only a few days we have together throughout the year to connect and grow.  If we use those days as boosters or times to refocus, our staff can continue to model that learning doesn’t start and end with a scheduled day.

Our inservice days will still include meetings (though hopefully less) and we will offer opportunities throughout the year for growth, but as we move forward I hope that we can trust our staff to make use of the time in their own way and direct their growth for the betterment of our kids. The fear comes in the unknown...I trust our staff to own their learning...but do I trust myself to step back and allow them to do it and break free of the what we have done in the past?  I guess we’ll find out!  Go Crickets!


  1. I read the same blog, and although I don't do all of those things, it iscertainly impacting my planning process. I'm sure your pd days well go great...especially now that you are consciously considering your staff.

    1. Thanks for reading! I hope it is a good experience...really looking forward to it!

  2. Wendy Lap's post made the rounds with many teachers I know. Really funny, and sadly true. Of the nearly 20 years of PD, the ones I remember are those the teachers helped plan. It is just like what we encourage teachers to do in the classroom--involve the students in the process. One of the absolute best opening programs we had in the CFSD was when the district scheduled a motivational speaker. He did not really teach specifics, but he made me want to learn. Enjoyed reading your blog. :-)

    1. Thanks, Monika...appreciate you reading the blog! You are right on...anytime we go somewhere or see someone who inspires us to learn it has a lasting impression on what we do in schools. Speaks to what we can do for students as well! Thanks again.