Never Too Cool for School

Written By smcneely

On July 12, 2011

Read more

Several months ago I wrote an entry called Leading Out Loud. I spotlighted several important (and sometimes underestimated) ways teachers can walk as leaders in their day to day work. In that entry, I promised to revisit each of the recommendations, and so that is where this story picks up. Forgive me for not going in order. I’m starting with recommendation #3:

3) Learn out loud: Never be too cool for school. Learning new things is always in style

back to schoolIn a few weeks I will be embarking on a new journey that will take me back to school (again) for more learning. Neither the decision nor the application and interview process was easy, but here I sit- just weeks out from the start of classes- and I’m buzzing with anticipation. I’m excited to feel what it’s like to be a student again and energized by the challenges I know will come with juggling work and school and life.

I realize not everyone grew up in a home where school was cool. My mom is a life-long learner and recently professed that since I’m going back to school, she thinks she wants to as well. I think she might have admitted she’s actually jealous. (She has a Ph.D. so it’s not like she hasn’t had her share of time in the classroom.) Her love of learning was clearly passed along to me, though it didn’t take hold until I was an adult and started graduate school.  During my masters work was when I truly understood how learning could look and feel. One night during a particularly lively discussion in an engaging class called “Creativity”, I remember getting angry and exclaiming, “Why has school not been this way all along? Why did I have to wait until now to know that school could be cool?”

As a PD provider, I work hard to create an environment of learning that fosters those brain-shaking moments where participants previously underwhelmed by professional development decide to give learning another shot. And regularly my colleagues and I receive feedback from folks that we have done exactly that. But it does make me wonder whether those who are responsible for coordinating and leading the embedded PD experiences tied to the day-to-day business of school share my same commitment.

I once had a teacher stop me in the hall and politely ask me to stop spotlighting the work of his team. They were all remarkable and had made huge strides in transferring the work we did in PD into their classrooms. Evidently, his colleagues were less than impressed and had bullied the team to such a degree they were worried it was impacting their effectiveness. How sad that being good at their jobs- being learners and thinkers– was not something to be celebrated in that school. This issue, of course, was bigger than me and my coaching work, and clearly tied to the leadership and culture of the building, but I’ve tucked that example in my cognitive file as the non-example for creating a community of learners.

If you are a school leader responsible for facilitation of learning, take a close look at your approach and consider whether your work is of the brain cell-stirring variety or if it falls a little flat. Do you foster a community where risk-taking is encouraged, reflection is expected, and successes are celebrated? Or are teachers fearful to stick out their necks and share new ideas?  The work we do at the top filters directly to the students in their seats. What are you doing to inspire, energize, challenge and celebrate learning in your midst?