I want to celebrate being brave this week. I was at the Teachers College Coaching Institute in New York City, and it was a series of challenges and risks from beginning to end. (Mostly) Not the kinds of risks that would upset my mom overly much, though she wouldn’t have liked me walking home from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the dark and alone. But I pushed myself out of my comfort zone repeatedly and intentionally. Instead of sitting alone in my hotel, I went out to the museum. And two other nights instead of eating alone in my room, I made friends with colleagues from across the country and proposed meeting up. I accepted an invitation to dinner with a colleague I’d been following on Twitter and finally met at Teachers College…and through her I met handfuls of other teachers, coaches, and leaders who had connected like this before.
As we sat around the table at the pub, we talked about our coaching sessions at PS 199 in Queens or the other schools we’d been working in. We shared plans for upcoming Nerd Camps and conferences. We book talked and even had an impromptu read aloud at the table. I was recounting a story from the week or sharing an idea for when I get back to my own school, I can’t even remember which, and I stopped mid-sentence. As I was speaking I heard my own voice emulating, imitating, our staff developer. “Whoa!” I exclaimed. “I was channeling my inner Annie!” We laughed together about how not just the language I chose but my intonation and attitude had taken on her persona. And we reflected that we catch ourselves doing this from time to time. Sometimes when I’m reading aloud or sharing certain strategies with teachers, I hear myself using Mary Ehrenworth’s voice and punctuation. Some of these ideas and experiences are near and dear to me, others I am approximating.
I worried aloud at the table that I had been so busy looking through my teacher lens or coach-of-one lens that I had missed out on thinking like a staff developer or leader of a whole lab site. It’s not likely my district can send me again (soon) to another Coaching Institute. I’m going to be trying out all that Annie shared with us and many other ideas from the amazing educators at TC. But I’m the only one from my district who was there. I announced to my new Twitter colleagues that I was going to rely on them to coach me from afar now that the week is ending. And I’ve got their Twitter handles (and I’m going to learn how to use Voxer!) so I know how to find them tomorrow and next week and in the spring.
As I listened to the various speakers in the sessions across the week I’d hear something profound (or profoundly simple) and immediately one or another of my teachers or our students would pop into my mind. It’s like new strategies and tools came with gift labels for a particular person. I already know that I’ll be looking for Joann first thing Monday morning to share the next step in our work with strong first grade readers. I’ll be looking for Katy to talk about parent workshops for advanced 3rd grade readers we share. And so on.
I was in one of the world’s biggest cities by myself this week. If I hadn’t reached out I might have spent many hours alone or daunted by the hugeness of it all. The work we have to do in our schools, with our teachers, for our students is huge.
It is monumental and it is critical.
We could sit alone with the enormity of it…or we could take the risk to reach out, to decide there’s more we need to learn, there’s something we could get stronger at, there’s more we’ll try to do. And when we’re the kind of person who chooses to reach out, we discover that we carry our support networks with us. Their voices are in our heads (and sometimes come out of our mouths). They are a phone call, a tweet, or whatever you call a Voxer message away. And they’ve got our backs. Like we’ve got the backs of those colleagues and kids who pop into our minds when we think of something special.
I’d never been brave enough before when I was in the same room with a Twitter-mate to say hello. I’m so glad I did this week. And from now on whenever I’m in the same place (room, conference, city, region) as someone who could potentially be part of my support network or PLN, I will take a risk again and introduce myself. And can I just tell you another thing I could do as a learner? When I’ve made great new contacts for my PLN, I can make that connection stronger by messaging them when I have a question to ask or an idea to offer. That will be important for leveraging the power of those connections.
Let me show you what that might look like. “Susan, it was great to meet you and collaborate this week. I’ll send you the information about our Family Book Battle like we talked about. Also you were talking about the kind of schedule you create for working with your teachers. I’m going to be in Maine early in June. Maybe I could shadow you for a day so I could learn more about it. And maybe before that I’ll be able to meet up with you at the ALA in Boston or one of the Nerd Camps.”
Do you hear it? I do. It’s the voice of other people’s experience and wisdom coming through me. I’m approximating with their help.
Now you try it. Off you go!