Throughout my years as a Professional Learning Specialist, it has become increasingly evident we in education need to get back to knowing our WHY. As you may recall in Simon Sinec’s number #1 best seller, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, Mr. Sinec stated Your WHY is your purpose, cause or fundamental belief. It’s the driving force behind all that you do. Your HOW’s are the actions you take when you’re at your best, to bring your WHY to life.
So my question is, “Why are we doing what we’re doing in the classroom?” Since the pandemic, there has clearly been an urgency to “catch up,” “get back on track,” and to accelerate our students’ progression. This has created a type of chaotic professional development, with educators grabbing at anything being touted as THE program or strategy that will fix everything that has been lost in the past two years. Interestingly, since the pandemic, educators have realized that “one and done” professional development is not effective and does nothing but frustrate teachers and administration. Therefore, we are moving away from the notion of professional development towards a more continuous professional learning model. I believe in order to do this most effectively, we must first examine the WHY behind our well intentioned professional learning opportunities. Knowing our WHY opens the door to deeper, more meaningful professional learning and change that leads to student progression.
“Knowing our WHY opens the door to deeper, more meaningful professional learning and change that leads to student progression.”
So, how do we examine our WHY? My contention is that we must examine the following:
- the way we analyze data,
- our teaching practices, and
- our models for professional learning
Doing so can lead us to clarity of our purpose and ultimately answers the question, “Why are we doing this?” It is no surprise that I would mention data analysis as one of our practices to examine. In a previous blog I wrote, “Analyze Your Data to Determine Your Need,” I stated that, “We need to look at individual student data to make true progressive change.” When selecting a professional learning avenue, we need to ask these questions:
- “Is this professional learning going to answer the questions that we have, regarding our students and their data?”
- “Will this professional learning help us in making the changes needed for our students to progress?”
Too often we spend an inordinate amount of time and money on professional learning that does not answer these questions. For example, if I am finding my students are passing the IREAD test but are not passing the ILEARN test, do I really need a phonemic awareness and phonics program, or do I need to work on the ILEARN Priority standards and the proficiency levels, which primarily focuses on comprehension/ DOK 2 and 3? Based upon the data, what does my student(s) need?
Another area I believe we must examine is our teaching practices. Teachers are the most well intentioned professionals, more so than many other professions, and they will do whatever it takes in order for their students to progress. However, do we as educators ever stop to ask the question “WHY?” Why are we doing the set practices in our classroom on a daily basis, and are ALL of our students benefiting? Is it for our own good that we have those practices or that routine, or is it for the good of ALL of our students? In John Hattie’s book Visible Learning, he stated that in order for our students to progress, and indeed to accelerate their learning, we as educators must go from what works to what works BEST for our students. Since the pandemic, most educators can concur that we now have a different type of student. We are experiencing students with low stamina for doing the classroom work, have attention spans that are short, and have difficulty in building relationships with their classmates. Is our professional learning addressing these questions along with the core academic subjects? If we don’t address what can be directly observed, we will never get to the in-depth conversations and learning for our students to reach or exceed at grade level proficiencies. Based upon best practices, what does my student(s) need?
“If we don’t address what can be directly observed, we will never get to the in-depth conversations and learning for our students to reach or exceed at grade level proficiencies.”
Other facets of professional learning, I believe we need to rejuvenate are utilizing mentors, observing experts in the area you need to strengthen and accepting coaching advice.
Teachers are the true experts in the field of teaching. Let’s utilize them more. No matter how long all of us have been in teaching, we could all use a mentor, one who asks those critical WHY questions. As an educator, I seek people out whom I believe will be good in helping me to grow not only professionally but personally. We all know of someone in our school or field of education who is excellent in a strategy, concept, way of teaching, etc. Ask if you may observe them doing what they do best. We are all learners, and those of us who are truly life long learners need the opportunity to watch and learn. Coaching is another area of professional learning that is so needed at this time. We all need a professional who can observe and then coach, with the focus on student progression. Many times, we are so deep in the forest that we don’t see the individual trees. We need a professional who can observe our practices and then coach objectively. A professional learning model MUST have a time where we can observe peers, apply that in our own classroom, and then have the opportunity to be coached. Coaching is not giving information; coaching is guiding and assisting another to be the best they can be. In order to be an excellent teacher, you must be a student yourself; thus, the need for the coaching piece in the professional learning puzzle. Based upon what I have learned and what my coach has observed, am I addressing what my student(s) need?
“We are all learners, and those of us who are truly life long learners need the opportunity to watch and learn.”
These are exciting times in education with so many opportunities for us as educators to do our best work to date. Let’s not be too hasty to jump on the first professional learning opportunity. Instead, I ask that you truly look at your student data, what you are already doing well that correlates with that data, and implement a professional learning model that will truly address the deficits that your students have with the focus on progression.
Finding your WHY is a necessary part in continuing a successful career in education.
It provides clarity and a focus, especially for our students to progress.