Joyful Learning Together

The hustle and bustle at this time of year can be stressful yet it doesn’t have to be. Recently, I have experienced the heartbreaking news of three unexpected deaths: a former colleague, a well-known educator, and a family member. This news always tugs at the heartstrings because as we continue to grow wiser in our years, we know that one day, too, it will be our turn. I’ve decided that means the hustle and bustle cannot get in the way of the relationships we have, the people we love, and the way we spend our time. We have to find a balance between work and play. We have to make time for those we love. All of a sudden, the stress that typically comes at this time of year has been depleted. What gets done, gets done. What doesn’t, doesn’t. What matters most is treasuring the time we have with others.

This treasured time is with family, with friends, and with colleagues. It is the time we spend in various community of practices – getting to know those well that are within each community we are connected to. I am fortunate to have several CoPs that lift my spirits and bring me joy. Today I want to focus in on a particular community of practice that has brought me joy – actually two communities that have come together as one.

Our K-5 Administrator-Coach CoP grew out of each group expressing interest to learn more, grow more, and communicate more. It only takes an idea of one, in one community of practice, to spark interest in something new and when the idea comes up in multiple communities it means it is time to take action. In January of 2017 our elementary administrators and elementary instructional coaches decided to begin meeting together about once a month after school as an admin-coach CoP. We had the following goals:

  • Establish our community of practice
  • Deepen our current understandings of the reader’s workshop to support and strengthen educators’ methodologies and spirits
  • Reflect and discuss within our individual leadership teams building strengths and areas of opportunity

Ultimately, we wanted to explore and grow in our understandings together so that we could best support those we serve – our teachers and our young learners. Each time we meet, we remind ourselves of these goals – we connect our work to the essentials of reading, we reflect, and we do some new learning together. The process evolves. Last year our focus was on the tenets and structure of reader’s workshop. This semester we have focused on conferring moving into discussions about text band complexity and learning progressions (to happen in January). Next, we will focus our learning on word study – an opportunity for growth for our district. It started with one coach and I meeting to plan, facilitate, and lead our time together. Now every coach has identified an area of focus to assist with facilitation. Next, admins who are interested to help plan will join in. The idea is that we all bring expertise to our CoP for us to learn together. Part of growing a community of practice is that it starts out small and matures over time – as we listen to one another and change based on the needs of the group. I can’t really say what it will look like next year because it might be different, yet I know our group will continue to meet. We will continue to grow. We will continue to seek input, knowledge and action from one another.

After asking for some insights from the members of our community of practice some of the strengths of our work (which is also what we continue to build upon) are the following:

  • Developing a common language and deeper understandings about effective pedagogy. This is vastly important as we consider our vision for our learners and the path we will take.
  • Being vulnerable as an administrator and a coach. Brene Brown discusses the importance of vulnerability in Daring Greatly (2015). She writes, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” When our administrators and coaches decided to be vulnerable by teaching in front of one another and in classrooms, they have shown that they are all in. Doing what we are learning helps others do the same.
  • Collaborating amongst colleagues across the district has allowed for everyone to stretch their thinking, affirm or revise thoughts, and build relationships across buildings. This has promoted systems alignment that helps us all head toward our district mission and vision.

The time we spend together in this community of practice has given me life. It’s given me hope. I see colleagues working together, thinking, together and learning together. I see colleagues who have a passion for learning and want to support one another, teachers, and other staff in this journey. Our community of practice is first and foremost about building relationships that will spread ideas like wildfire. It is through this time together that I hope we continue to outgrow our best leading, our best teaching, our best learning, our best facilitating, and more. I leave this blog post today with quotes from a few of our administrators on how our CoP together has been beneficial. I encourage everyone to think about the partnerships between the administrator and coach and how those partnerships can dance together to continuously enrich the lives of those we serve – our learners (both students and educators).

A few quotes:

“Having the opportunity to share learning with knowledgeable instructional coaches is one of the most important professional development opportunities I have benefited from during the past year. Our Admin-Coach community of practice allows me to study best practices, discuss best practices, and even practice best practices. I have really enjoyed it! And look forward to future learning opportunities.” (Principal)

“Everyone has unique experiences and different lenses that they bring to the table. It makes for interesting and lively conversations as we evolve in our learning and practice.” (Assistant Principal)

“We want to focus on the aspect of the work that leads to positive change and the maximization of teachers’ strengths and potential. We concentrate only on those behaviors directly related to the goal of building teachers’ capacity for success… The relationship between the coach and principal is imperative. Both the coach and principal have to be open and honest about vision, goals, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Without this, the goal of growth can become stagnant” (Principal)

“The whole process has been helpful to me as an administrator” (Assistant Principal)

A final thought… 2017 was an amazing year, but 2018 will be better. Happy New Year to all – hope you accomplished much this year, set goals for next year, and that CLC can be a community of practice for you to lean on through 2018.

Best wishes for 2018,

Jen 🙂

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