Blog Post by PTAC Member Georgette Hackman
Teaching can be lonely.
This sounds odd because we as teachers spend our day surrounded by other humans, but the actual art of teaching is normally done solo. Many teaching days involve hours of isolation from other adults in a classroom of students, often with the door closed.
Rarely do we as teachers step out of our solitary confines to co-teach or network with the teachers around us. Often, with the demands the system puts on us there isn’t much time for contact and collaboration with other adults.
The first part of my teaching career found me with lots of teacher friends, but very few that with whom I had opportunity for deep professional conversations. Talking about specific lessons, collaboration and brainstorming were things that I tried, but in the end I did most of my planning by myself.
The Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that American schools tend to not excel at providing the culture and opportunity for teachers to collaborate with each other. I certainly felt that in the beginning of my career.
Too many of my early attempts at collaboration were negative experiences. Instead of working to find innovative ways to help students, I was told over and over why my ideas wouldn’t work. The discussions ended there.
This caused me to believe that it was best for me not to reach out to others. Looking back I know this wasn’t best for my practice nor my students. I wonder how many current teachers feel this same way.
One year, on a whim, I applied for a week-long residential summer professional development session. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love to learn and I love to travel, so it seemed like a
What I thought would be a fun week away learning new concepts ended up completely transforming my professional career.
So much so, that when I now reflect on my life as a teacher, I think of BPD (before professional development) and APD (after professional development).
What happened at this life-changing event?
How did it transform a teaching career in 5 short days?
What changed me really had nothing to do with the content. It had EVERYTHING to do with the people.
You see, at that session, I walked into a room and found myself surrounded by 35 other people
who were as enthusiastic as I was to grow as a professional. I found teachers whose passion for teaching matched mine. I found teachers who experienced the same joy that I experienced in lesson planning. I found teachers who wanted to sit and talk for hours about strategies and resources. I found teachers who couldn’t get enough of whatever could be done to help their students succeed.
In short, I found my people.
I was astounded. I went in thinking that I was alone.
I left knowing the true value of an authentic professional learning community.
Nine years later, I have attended at least 20 other PD sessions just like the first one and I have added hundreds of teachers to my Professional Learning Community (PLC). I have used what I’ve learned from these teachers around the world to engage and inspire the teachers in my school, my school district, and beyond.
I have even stepped into leadership roles planning and facilitating learning opportunities for other teachers.
I like to think of it as helping my fellow teachers to find their people.
Professional development isn’t the only place to build a PLC. As part of my professional journey, I have found that social media is a networking teacher’s dream.
Twitter, Facebook groups, and Instagram are all ways to connect with inspirational teachers from around the globe. Memberships in professional organizations like the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee (PTAC) and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Network of State Teachers of the Year (NSTOY-PA) have helped me to add even more teachers to my PLC.
Finding other people who share your passion and commitment is exponentially transformative. In this act of networking is the recognition of our passion in the faces of others. Finding one another is powerful. Maintaining those connections is transformative.
Amy Poehler was 100% correct when she said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
It changed mine.
Blog post by PTAC Member Colleen Reiner
A few years ago, the education department at Elizabeth College wanted to present me with a Distinguished Alumni award. My first reaction was to ask them if they had the right person.
I was surprised by the honor at first. My surprise soon turned to excitement as I realized the incredible opportunity this would afford me to talk about a group of students that are often forgotten in our school systems.
Anyone who has children or has worked with children knows that children learn and develop at different speeds.
When I think of my own children, my eldest daughter would be considered a daffodil or a crocus. She was an early bloomer. Betsy knew in 8th grade that she wanted to be a doctor. When her classmates were reading romance novels and adventure books she was reading books written by medical school interns and residents. She was researching colleges with the best acceptance rates to medical school while others were still thinking of what they wanted to do after high school. Betsy has followed her dream and is now in medical school.
My younger daughter is a rose or delphinium. Emily is a summer bloomer. She spent her high school years looking at her strengths and interests. After looking at six or seven different occupational paths she has finally found her passion and is focused on a career in chemistry. She enjoyed high school and is working hard at university taking classes and doing research.
I am a late bloomer. Like a chrysanthemum, I let all of the other spring and summer flowers bloom before me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do my senior year in high school. There was no particular college that I had in mind. It was made clear to me by others that I was expected to attend college, though. After 4 years of college and a degree, I still had no idea what my calling was in life.
I attended college for 4 years and still didn’t feel ready to start a career.
I was fortunate enough to find teaching more than a year after getting my college degree. That year allowed me to mature and to realize that being a teacher was what I was meant to do.
In Robert Kraus’s book “Leo the Late Bloomer,” the protagonist is a tiger who isn’t keeping up with his classmates in school. His father is very concerned that his struggles will keep him from succeeding in life, but his mother keeps stressing that Leo will “grow in his own good time.” Of course, in the story Leo ends up proving his mother correct.
Like Leo and I, many of our students just need some time to bloom. With the right encouragement and nurturing, they will be fine. Our system expects all of our children to learn at the same rate, but as teachers we know that each individual learns and grows at their own pace. No child should be discouraged or penalized because they develop faster or slower than their peers.
A family friend once told me that his father was fond of giving the following advice. “Bloom where you are planted.”
I was planted at Elizabethtown College, where the motto was “Educate to Serve.” I clearly remember convocation when I first arrived. I don’t remember who I was sitting next to or how long the ceremony was that night. The only thing I remember is thinking how important it was to serve others.
During my time at Elizabethtown I germinated and grew strong roots. I joined clubs and groups, worked at the snack bar, attended my classes, and was exposed to a wide variety of different people.
It was a blessing to have wonderful friends and professors during that time. When I made mistakes, they believed in me, forgave me, and helped me grow. Those mistakes and lessons I learned from them made me who I am today.
Those lessons helped me bloom when it was my time.
When I have a student who is struggling in my classes, I always ask myself, “Could this be a late bloomer?”
I want to make sure that I am giving the encouragement, support, and assistance to each of my students that was given to me during the times in my life that I needed it.
Here are 5 ways that you can ensure all the flowers in your classroom, including the late bloomers, get what they need:
1. It only takes one person to make a change. We often talk about change and how it should happen. But we wait around hoping for someone to lead us in that change. Don’t wait for that person. BE that person.
2. Everyone makes mistakes. I certainly made lots of them, and I still make them at times. All of us do. Take responsibility, ask for forgiveness, learn from the mistake, and try not to repeat it. Model for students what learning from mistakes looks like. Hiding this part of yourself from them robs them of an opportunity to learn from you.
3. Don’t give up on kids. At times change takes place right away. Other times, change may take a lot longer. Be patient with your students.
4. Give change a chance. Allow students to have agency in your classroom. The more flexible and open-minded you are, the more students have an opportunity to grow and thrive.
5. Model innovation and problem-solving for students. If they see that you don’t have all the answers, and they learn from you how to go about finding solutions to the problems in their world, they will have more opportunity to develop into their best selves.
On Saturday, October 6th, the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee was excited to welcome our newest members at an orientation and training in Mechanicsburg. Our new members represent a wide variety of locations and teaching settings in the Commonwealth - from Philadelphia to rural areas in the northwestern part of the state.
After completing the initial training, members are eligible to participate in helping PTAC provide substantive information and feedback to stakeholders in Pennsylvania that make education decisions. The diversity of teaching settings, expertise, and viewpoints in the organization allows us to provide decision makers nuanced and varied narratives from a wide variety of schools.
Membership applications to the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee are reviewed on a rolling basis and new member trainings are scheduled several times throughout the year. The application takes about 5 minutes to complete and can be found at at http://ptacvoice.org/apply-to-join-ptac .
Blog Post By REbecca Gibboney, PTAC Member
Nine years ago, I had my first sleepless night as a teacher. I spent the night reviewing lesson plans and hoping that I would be able to make meaningful connections with my students. When the alarm rang, despite the tired bags under my eyes, I was excited and enthusiastic as I greeted each student that walked into my classroom.
That was my first day of being a teacher in my own classroom.
My lessons were scripted and the bulletin boards were neatly prepared. I even had a mint bowl next to the door for students that arrived on time. I knew that the lure of a mint would be sure to motivate students to arrive before the bell.
According to everything I had learned in my pre-service classes, things were under control.
I greeted my first group of students at the door with my “pocketful of sunshine” enthusiasm. I was sure they would greet me back. I was sure they were going to dive right into those mints. I was sure they would get busy right away with the bell ringer. And they did.
But, weeks passed by and I kept pushing along with my content, because that’s what I was trained to do. I was still greeting my students with enthusiasm every day, and I still had that bowl of fresh mints waiting, but something changed. Students’ smiles were fading, their eyes were restless.
And my mint bowl was staying full.
When I caught my first student asleep during my lesson, I was shocked and asked that student to stay after class. There had to be a punishment for his actions, right?
“Why were you sleeping during my lesson? It took me hours to prep that lesson! Do you know how disrespectful that is? I don’t think I’m that boring, am I?” I prodded.
In my young, new-teacher mind, his sleeping was somehow about me. I was the wronged party. He was being disrespectful to me.
“I’m sorry Señorita. I was up all night having panic attacks and when I finally got control of them it was early in the morning. I really only had about two hours of sleep,” he told me.
This was a plot twist I did not expect. I changed in that moment.
That single interaction forced me to reconsider what I thought I knew about teaching, learning, and school.
I learned that teaching cannot be scripted by a curriculum or a textbook, but teaching is all about making connections and forming relationships.
Nine years later I see things very differently than I did as a novice. My enthusiasm remains, but I know that learning is messy. I used to plan for perfection, but now I plan for complexity.
I know that the art of teaching -- the art of building the relationships that are vital for both learning and personal growth -- is both complex and messy.
I begin each of my classes every year by uncovering my students’ unique stories. I learn what is hidden behind those tired eyes and worn-out smiles.
I simply listen.
We, as educators, cannot truly teach without first understanding our characters that walk into our classrooms each day.
Teachers are the directors of our classes. Our students are the actors.
Each year, we start without a script. Yet, students bring their own. Every single student in our classroom has a story with plot twists, some more than others; and, these plot twists have shaped them into who they are today.
It is our jobs to understand those plot twists and shape their character.
As a teacher, it is important to take the time to listen to students’ stories. It is important to take the time to understand who they are and who they want to become.
We must coach students through their plot twists and teach them that those plot twists - good or bad - do not define who they are.
Teaching isn’t just about the curriculum or the letter grades behind a name. Teaching is all about uncovering a student’s story and empowering them to write their own.