There is a saying in the Ohio Writing Project about the way we do things. We say that the best PD is, “By teachers for teachers.”
Because of a Teacher, Volume II, by George Couros and a team of brilliant collaborators, is a master class written for educators by educators. As human beings, we are wired for connection and storytelling. It’s one of the earliest strategies for learning. People sitting around a fire, talking to each other and telling stories.
Please sit around this beautiful fire and listen to these stories. Perhaps Mike Kleba says it best, “The best professional development is down the hall, and there is no better clinic than observing the daily work of another teacher who you truly admire.”
This book feels like a walk down those hallways. Together. I’ve been thinking a lot about Mike’s words and the people who have shaped me. Specifically, Dr. Kim Given. Her classroom was across the hall from mine when I was a seventh grade English teacher at Indian Hill Middle School. We used to joke about the beauty of having classrooms that were nestled at the very end of a dead-end hallway. There wasn’t much foot-traffic back there with the exception of our students and weekly visits from administrators. And it was fun. I’m sure that’s not the right thing to write about, but there was this sense that the vibes back there were our vibes. We had a high sense of responsibility for how that space felt to kids and to us. We were the adults taking care of that little corner of the town, and we were proud of the way we were taking care of it.
In those few minutes between class bells, Kim and I would stand in the hallway together and greet students. But we would also talk shop. We would talk about things we were trying with our students, what was working and not working, and why we thought so. We would talk about what we were reading and about personal life stuff too. We just talked. And yet, in those 3 minute little conversations, I learned more than I have in any professional development workshop or day. It was action-research. Kim modeled what it looked like to be a veteran teacher who was trying new things. She modeled what it looked like to be deeply curious about meeting the needs of all learners. She modeled what it looked like to not have all the answers.
And perhaps that was most powerful of all. Modeling what it looks like to not know all the things. So often, we don’t model vulnerability, reflection, and learning and then we wonder why we don’t have it in our learning communities. If we make leadership something that only perfect people do, we won’t have leaders. People won’t do these jobs. They won’t lead classrooms. They won’t lead committees. They won’t lead schools or districts. Because there are no perfect people. There are just people. Willing people who want to learn and grow.
We must learn to work with the willing. We must learn to see the unique gems of potential hidden inside students and educators alike. We must make it our mission to amplify those strengths and leverage them for the greater good of our school ecosystems. No one shows up to school as an empty vessel waiting to be filled. We want to contribute. We want to matter. We want to work on something bigger than ourselves. And we all bring experiences, connections, knowledge, talents, and quirks. This is what makes school so interesting and complex and beautiful.
If we continue to expect our students, teachers, and administrators to be just like us and to do the work just like we do it, we will continue to be disappointed, and we are missing a big opportunity. There is not one right way to learn all the time. There is not one right way to teach all the time. There is not one right personality for leadership. There is not one right way to take on a challenge.
I wonder what it would look like to spend a school year ridiculously focused on amplifying and leveraging strengths in classrooms and in schools. I wonder what it would look like to be relentless in our pursuit of truly seeing people and being with them. I wonder what it would look like to create a culture of connection through storytelling.
Whether it’s down the hall, around the campfire, or in this beautiful book, let’s make space for stories. Whether it’s telling our own or making space for others, stories help us find our way through this complex landscape. Perhaps, through stories, we will realize that we have more in common than we think.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this for me:
My expectations for learning are high.
My expectations for how we treat each other are even higher.