“We believe that teachers develop professionally through meaningful inquiry and collaborative opportunities with colleagues, characterized by sharing observations of students, exploring instructional possibilities, and reflecting on their growth as learning teachers and teacher-leaders.” from The Teacher You Want to Be
For almost all of my life, my passion for education has been undying. I loved what I did with great purpose and a determination that I can only describe as innate. I always believed I was born to teach. It was just that simple. I was forever thankful for such a powerful force in my life, especially as I watched others struggle to find their place in the work world. I felt lucky to know what it was I was here for and for all of the meandering paths to take me there. I would kill for this work, but now I fear the work may be killing me.
You see, ever since my very first teaching gig, I have had a community of forward thinkers around me. It started when I was an intern and worked at a cluster school where there were several of us lowly interns, working for free, taking graduate classes and trying to make ends meet financially. We bonded often at the local watering hole in the afternoons for Happy Hour because there were free hors devours (dinner to us!) and one-dollar beers. We would spend hours debriefing our weeks and mulling over our common and uncommon experiences. The laughter, the camaraderie and the connections were invaluable.
My first job landed me in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire in the midst of the most welcoming and fabulous team of teachers where working together was just the way it was. I needed to learn to teach and they were there to help me grow and learn. We grew up as Mother’s together. Our strength in our numbers was undeniable. Just the opening of the door meant I could go to the bathroom any time of the day! They are still some of my nearest and dearest friends to this day.
My next position was in Plaistow where I instantly felt alone and missing my community, so I listened intently at staff meetings and in the teachers room and then there was an opportunity to take a graduate course called Learning Through Teaching. It was held at the Pollard School and it is there that I really started to get to know people. I loved the meetings after school where we wrote, shared our writing and our thinking. I found my peeps and then I went after them, moving rooms and finding ways where we could work together. We too bonded in and out of school and there I found some of the funniest people I have ever met who I don’t see often enough!
My last 15 years at UNH, that community of support ebbed and flowed in terms of numbers, but was unwavering in it’s consistency. One Friday a month we would all gather at someone’s house to talk things through over coffee, tea and some kind of breaking of bread. We read, we wrote, we listened, we responded. Participants would come and go, but the core was steadfast and true and at that core was Louise and Newkirk, and now they have both retired. (Well, Louise will officially this month anyway! Congrats to you my friend!)
As I move forward in this work I realize that I need to make, create and establish this kind of consistent community with new people. I am not as good on my own as I am with others who talk the talk, ask the questions and keep us all current in our work. I NEED this as I need air to breathe and without this air, I am not in good enough shape to keep on going it alone….and that is what I mean by killing me.
Learning Through Teaching was born on the foundation of teachers gathering and having professional conversations. It was Jean Robbins (see blog on Jean) who approached Tom Newkirk (see blog on Newkirk) and thus Learning Through Teaching was founded.
Enter Louise to run it and grow it for 20 years with me by her side for 15 of those years and it has been an amazing run, but it is not over. If connectedness is this important to me then the work we do is even more important than I even knew. In LTT, we do just this. We help teachers grow professionally in a safe environment where we read; we write and have those conversations regularly within the walls of their schools while earning graduate credits. I still believe it is the most powerful and individualized form of Professional Development.
So what is next? It is time for the next generation of forward thinkers to gather and keep on keeping on. We need ways to extend ourselves beyond the brick and mortar that has so many feeling constrained and at the same time to stay there and support teachers as they move and change in their thinking and practices. It is time to breathe life into and grow again; to create a new garden of support, to blossom, to bloom, to create more beauty together.
If you have ever been a part of Learning Through Teaching I would love for you to share your experiences here (in the comments section or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org) , to tell your story of what it was like for you to be a part of a learning community and how it helped you in your teaching. As we look forward, it is important to look back, to think about what works well and what might need to be changed and to do that we need all of you and your ideas, your questions, your thoughts.
My hope is to continue interviewing, thinking and writing about Learning Through Teaching to uncover the truths about what has kept it going for so long and to keep it in schools far into the future.
For more information on Learning Through Teaching, see here: UNH Learning Through Teaching Professional Development.