Living in a Learning Community

“We have a choice to make — we can either live in a learning community or a teaching community.”-@fastwalker10

Last week, I was blessed with a number of those “learning community days.” Yes, there are those “teaching community days” that rear their ugly heads every now and then. And, most days can be categorized as a combination of the two — some learning here and some teaching there…but basically, school, curriculum, and assessment per usual. There is no doubt that educators feel the ground shifting…the teacher is now the lead learner, the classroom is now the learning space, even the faculty lounge/workroom occupies both physical and virtual spaces and can be called the PLN (personal learning network). Whether or not these name changes indicate true shifts in the focus from teaching to learning, they are pretty clear signs that The Times They Are A-Changin’.

At some point between 3:30 – 4:30 on a too-humid Wednesday afternoon in April, @fastwalker10 uttered her observation about learning and teaching communities. While some would argue that it’s not one or the other but a combination of the two, I think I’m striving to live (and help create) a pure learning community along with the other learners at Trinity. So, what does that look like?

I’ve asked Maryellen Berry (@fastwalker10), Trinity’s Upper Learning Department Coordinator (read: Principal), to share her thoughts about her vision for learning communities:

It’s April.  In the life of a school, it’s a time for revving up of end-of-year activities, cramming in of curriculum yet to be “covered,” and simultaneously a time when teachers’ energy wanes.

As I prepared for the faculty meeting that I was to lead, I wanted to infuse energy, thinking and learning, and inspiration – lofty goals for an administrator who is also in April and whose “to-do list” grows exponentially with each hour.

Still, I persevered.  In the midst of my preparation, inspiration came to me via Megan Howard, a fellow educator at my school.  She sent a link to a blog, which ironically is one I have followed.  Zac Chase, an English teacher at the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, writes  “Things I Know 93 of 365” and I am inspired.  My April faculty meeting begins to take shape in my mind, and I can’t wait till 3:30 to share with the teachers.

I began by sharing with the faculty that I think administrators need to be good teachers and good models of what they want their students and teachers to do.  As I am prone to do, I launched into a story to set the stage.  I shared with them about my personal journey in preparing to present at Educon this past January.  Presenting to educators – no big deal – it’s something I enjoy and have experience doing.  Participating in dialogue with people who don’t remember playing a 45 rpm record and who are digitally wired – literally and figuratively was intimidating.  I had to set up a Twitter account.  “I don’t have time to Tweet anyone and I don’t have time to read about what someone ate for dinner,” I exclaimed to Megan who was presenting with me.  But I signed up.  The conference was intimidating.  I heard technological phrases that I didn’t understand, saw devices and wires everywhere, and listened to conversations on topics I wasn’t confident enough to participate in.

Yet, I was there. Stretching myself.  Learning. Growing. Questioning. Gaining skills to keep relevant in what I seek to inspire others to do every day with students.  I walked away inspired; I had learned and shared.

Perhaps more important that that, I surrounded myself with likeminded others who care about the students they teach and passionately seek to create learning experiences that capture the hearts and minds of their students.

Transitioning from storytelling to blog reading, I asked the faculty to read Zac Chase’s post and to capture five thoughts about his thinking.  Teachers gathered in small groups to share with each other about what they read and thought about.  Most groups were actively engaged in lively dialogue about the ideas presented in his post.

Vulnerability.  Risk-taking.  Not forgetting what it is like to be a student.  Asking ourselves to do what we require our students to do.  As we reconvened in a larger group to share with each other, the level of participation waned.  Every day, we expect students to do things we wouldn’t necessarily want to do.  They can’t opt out.  They are nervous, or afraid of feeling dumb.  All of these feelings were present in the room at that moment.

Educators have to be willing to model for their students.  We have to keep learning and growing.  Too often, when the stretch feels too great we complain that we don’t have enough time or we find everything negative to complain about rather than dipping a toe into the new arena and growing one step at a time.  We have a choice to make as educators – we can live in a learning community or a teaching community.  The choice is easy for me.  The growing is not so easy, but always worth it.



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