The Non-Complacent Teacher

Isn’t it interesting how so many teachers are self-proclaimed nerds?  Nerd is a term that recently has become quite trendy.  That has not always been the case.  When I was in middle and high school, I can assure you it was an insult to be called a nerd.  I cringe remembering how in some cases, I did all that I could to avoid that label. However, today I wear the nerd label proudly.  It’s hard work staying on top of research, trends, conferences, and professional literature.  But the end result is so worth it.  Here are some ways I manage to be non-complacent in a career that has spanned over 18 years and will hopefully grow to 30+ years.

Get Connected!

Make sure to make connections to other educators.  Start within your own building.  Find a group of like-minded, positive people that you can learn with and from.   Then, gradually expand to others in your district, state, and across the nation.  One easy way to do this is through social media.  I joined Twitter last year and it has changed my career.  I have connected with educators across the country (and world) that have inspired and taught me how to be a better teacher.  I believe in the power of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).  But you have to go out there and get involved!

IMG_1329Another way to stay on top of trends and research in the education community is to join organizations and subscribe to professional journals.  I love receiving my “Literacy Today” magazine from the International Literacy Association.  After I read them I bring them to school to share with other teachers in my building.  It’s crucial that educators know what is happening outside of the bubble that is their district and state.

Conferences, Camps, and Collaboration…Oh My!

Hopefully you work in a district and/or school that promotes professional development.  If so, take advantage of the conferences around your state or even the nation.

I have a few big tips for attending a conference.  First, go with a team if possible.  I say this because I have attended conferences by myself as well as with a group.  The difference is amazing.  After attending solo, I would come back to my school and be so excited to change the world.  One small problem…I had to spend a lot of time creating buy in from my colleagues because they did not attend the conference, hear inspiring speakers, see the products, or get energized from being around other eager educators.   Attending a conference with a group allows you to split up and attend lots of different sessions and then come back together to collaborate.  On the flip side, you can also attend sessions together that align with your school/district vision and then debrief afterwords.  Plus, when you go with a group, they can hold you accountable for taking action after the conference.

My next tip is the “law of two feet“.  A lot of conferences have you register for specific sessions.  This is awesome because you are guaranteed a seat, you can focus on certain topics, and you can hear a variety of presenters.  However, not all sessions will be a perfect fit for you.  I have gone to presentations that, once in there, I realized I didn’t need that information or it wasn’t relevant for me.  I also have gone to sessions where I didn’t care for the speaker’s presentation style.  So, I used my “two feet” to quietly leave and find a session that did meet my needs.

There are so many great conferences out there.  Here are a few to get you started!

Staff Development for Educators or SDE is one of my favorites.  They offer conferences all over the country.  I have found that they offer a variety of topics, presenters, and locations.

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North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching or NCCAT is a state funded conference available for North Carolina Teachers.  Housing, meals, and conferences are free to teachers.  This is a conference every NC teacher should experience.

IMG_1336 International Society for Technology in Education or ISTE was created by educators in Oregon who asked “what if” questions about how to make teaching and learning more meaningful.  If you can’t afford to go to a national conference, find your state chapter, such as North Carolina Technology in Education Society or NCTIES.

IMG_1332EdCamps are participant driven and such a cool event to attend.  At the beginning of the camp, participants submit questions, ideas, and topics and the organizers of the camp design a schedule.  You can then go to any of the sessions that interest you.  Here is the catch…there are no presenters.  The participants engage in conversation and collaborate.  Most edcamps take place on the weekend and are FREE!  Learn more about them here.

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Professional Literature

My professional library started with all of my education text books from college.  Then, my school began to give me books for professional development and book studies.  Over time, my collection grew.  However, I noticed that they were all books someone else had chosen for me.  I wanted to start adding books that I selected and that helped inspire me in the classroom.  I used to borrow my colleague’s books, but found that I like to annotate the text, add post-it notes, and highlight so I began to buy my own.  Here are a few of my favorite books.

Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is a game changer.  Couros is also a dynamic public speaker, so if you get the chance to see him, I highly suggest it.

IMG_1330Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is an inspiring book that will help impact student learning in your classroom.  Burgess explains how to engage students in your classroom.

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The Artisan Teacher by Mike Rutherford is a “Field Guide to Skillful Teaching” and helps teachers examine 23 Themes such as Mid-Course Corrections, Time and Timing, and Stagecraft.

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 The world of education changes almost daily.  It is easy to get left behind, fall into a rut, and become complacent.  Make sure to find ways to challenge yourself.  Find ways to get inspired and stay inspired.  Get involved in your educational community and become a change agent.  In doing so, you will impact student learning in your classroom, school, district, and even state.

I would love to hear what you do to be a non-complacent teacher.  Leave a comment including your Twitter handle to connect to other educators.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @lsj914 to read other educational posts.

My Tribe

If you have been in education long enough, you know that change is inevitable.  In my 18 years as an educator, I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth several times.  It can be overwhelming and confusing at times to know which philosophy to back or which soap box to stand upon.

With that in mind, I can always, always count on my tribe to guide me.  Merriam-Webster defines tribe as “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest.”  Every educator needs a tribe.  This is your core group of people that support, challenge, inspire, and listen to you.  You know, your peeps.

Your tribe can consist of people you see everyday, your work spouse, your students, your gurus, and/or former colleagues.  My tribe is all of the above.

I depend heavily on my “work wife.”  She challenges me to be a better educator.  She is my sounding board when I have an idea and a listening ear when I’m frustrated.  On the days she is not at work, I struggle. I’m lucky in the fact that not only is she an amazing teacher and partner, but she is fun to work with.

I am fortunate to work at a school surrounded by some of the hardest working educators in the world.  The teachers, staff, and administrators I work with have one common goal: what’s best for the kids.  Day in and day out…the students come first.  It is because I work with such phenomenal teachers that I come to work everyday with my A game.  I don’t want to let them down. Even though I am the instructional coach, I learn just as much from them.  My administrators and my mentor support me in every way.  They trust my opinion and respect my experiences.  I could not be innovative or take risks without knowing they’ve got my back. They are part of my tribe.

Even though I don’t see them everyday, or near enough for that matter, my former colleagues are still part of my life.  There are certain teachers who have made huge impressions on me.  They taught me how to truly enjoy teaching.  They taught me to slow down and think things through, to look at the other side of the coin.  My supervising teacher while I did my student teaching taught me to leave my class at the end of the day as if a sub was going to walk in and teach the next day.  In other words, clear your desk of piles, have your plans perfect, and be 100% ready to go!  My two best friends in the world are former colleagues of mine and two of the BEST teachers I have ever seen!  They taught me how to love my students like a mama bear.  These educators have gone on to other schools, positions, or retired, but they made an impact on me.  They are my tribe.

I was once asked in an interview who my educational gurus were.  I faltered.  I had a bookshelf full of professional texts and magazines.  I had a read and researched many educators in grad school.  Why couldn’t I name a few in this interview?  Well, you’d better believe I can name them now! Through every phase of my educational career, I have had a professional hero or mentor.  The day I was hired for my first teaching job, I was handed the book “The First 100 Days of School” by Harry Wong.  I read it cover to cover and it still has a place of honor on my bookshelf.  Dr. Jean Feldman helped me teach kindergarten by teaching me to sing and have fun with my students.  When I became a Literacy Specialist, I studied Fontas and Pinnell and taught many kids how to read.  Just this past week, I met George Couros at a conference.  His book “The Innovator’s Mindset” has transformed my leadership style.  They are part of my tribe (and don’t even know who I am!).

Finally, the most important members of my tribe are my students.  They may change year to year, but they will always be my kids.  I’m an educator.  I’m overworked and underpaid.  But I do it for them.  I believe that I can make a difference and I will not fail them.   I’ve heard people say time and time again that teachers make lasting impressions on students.  I agree.  But what often goes unsaid is that students make lasting impressions on their teachers, too.  They are a BIG part of my tribe.

So why have I spent 30 minutes writing a blog post about My Tribe?  Well, my advice to all educators is find a tribe.  Build your tribe.  Surround yourself with people that inspire you and make you a better person.  Who are the members of your tribe?  Have you ever heard the saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”?  Well, show me your tribe, and I’ll show you what kind of teacher you are.

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