A Healthy Professional Balance

Any political agenda and organization which doesn’t begin with personal responsibility is just half the argument. It’s just not going to succeed.  ~Peter Coyote

I have an admission…

For years I complained publicly and privately that our school district was not doing enough to support its teachers. Past professional learning opportunities included sponsoring a $10 000 40-minute rah-rah by a former Montreal Canadiens player (whom shall remain nameless). His selling spiel? “Hey teachers, I’ve never been a teacher, just an overpaid adult playing a kid’s game, but you know you got to follow your…passion. (Ah…yeah. Riiiight. Thanks. Why didn’t we think of that? After all we are just teachers.)

For my many years as a non-enrolling educator, I was forced to travel eight hours to Vancouver to attend learning opportunities and connect with colleagues. This was a long process of booking flights, accommodations, transportation in the city. Application for partial reimbursement was a tedious process and that required a machete to cut through a jungle of red tape. Ah, but that was then…

Enter new district leadership with a new vision, slogan, and a marketing and branding strategy. Voila! The professional learning opportunities are plentiful and robust. I mean there are folks whose sole responsibility is to organize learning for other educators. For this, I am truly grateful. These opportunities are no longer relegated to specific professional development (a term I immense dislike since we really aren’t developing the profession but rather supporting the learning of individual educators) days as they are referred to. And for the record, our PD Days are even categorized: school district professional development days, school-based PD days, a provincial professional development day, and even in-lieu creating summer PD days. Choice abounds!

But I feel pressure to attend those district-initiated sessions. My judgment is that our administrator is also being pressured to get staff to attend. Indeed, the list of power-hitters in educational consultancy is impressive: Carole Fullerton, Adrienne Gear, Shelley Moore, and Faye Brownlie to name just a few of the British Columbia based gurus. Many of my colleagues attend these opportunities begrudgingly, some with excited, and still others without much anticipation. Still others contribute very little reflection about the success of implementing these proffered systems of teaching/learning numeracy and literacy in the practice.

A part of our local agreement professional learning is part autonomous and part district-initiated. I really appreciate the balance and the trust that the employer has in its employees. Autonomy is a wonderful thing! And while I sense a perceptible (but subtle) shift towards more district-driven professional learning, I find myself turning back towards my students. My learners. My greatest teachers.

My professional career has gone through massive changes in just the past few years. From classroom teaching to non-enrolling responsibilities to administration to classroom teaching. From secondary to middle school and back to elementary/intermediate. It has been a whirlwind of opportunities and I have relished them all; the successes, the challenges, the learning (oh, the learning).

My colleagues, and I, currently find ourselves deeply immersed in a project: to rebuild our beloved middle years program. The school survived (barely) a large immense changeover of staff, new school leadership, transition to a new learning space, and a doubling of size of the middle years program in just over fourteen months. It is no small wonder that the middle years program staff is digging in and making that the priority of our collective professional learning.

Unfortunately, the process has not involved new ways to approach teaching algebra or introducing different writing methodologies to learners. Rather our collectively professional learning has been about deeply sitting into the discomfort of change, learning to work together collaboratively in healthy and supportive ways. It has been about massive personal professional growth, having difficult conversations, showing up for each other, overcoming conflicts of the past, and being prepared to vulnerable in front of each and our learners. It has been about showing up for our kids. Each one of them. Every day.  All day. This has been my professional learning agenda.

And whether or not school or district leadership is supportive or not, I’m OK with it.


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