I first learned the value of having a professional circle of influence when I was a mathematics teacher at Turner Middle School. I had a knack for finding interesting ways to make the content challenging and intellectually engaging…for the top students. I struggled to do the same for my special needs students and for my students in the middle. My philosophy at the time was that everyone would rise to the highest expectations. That particular philosophy was as flawed as it was foolish. Kids need scaffolding. Hell, adults need it too. I was missing out on opportunities to engage with most of my students because of my strict adherence to a personal philosophy on teaching and learning.
My approach to planning, teaching, and learning changed when I began to plan collaboratively with two good friends and colleagues. One was my grade-level counterpart. The other was the special education teacher. We used our Friday evenings to sit together, plan lessons, and most importantly, argue about what was important to our respective approaches to teaching. I didn’t realize it at the time, but each of us was making the others better by sharing our philosophies, strategies, techniques, and reasoning behind the choices we made. My grade-level counterpart contributed strategies for reaching students who struggled with the content. My special education colleague forced us to consider the needs of students with disabilities and introduced us to scaffolding and pedagogical strategies that benefited everyone in the class. I continued to push the envelope with regard to expectations of performance. Our respective classrooms immediately all became much more inclusive, rigorous, and responsive to the needs of all of our students. We looked forward to our weekly planning sessions because those meetings gave us time to compare notes, plan for the upcoming week, celebrate our respective successes, and brainstorm solutions for our respective challenges. I’ve advocated this model for collaborative planning ever since.
I believe that this same approach to developing a professional circle of influence has merit outside the classroom as well. I regularly speak with my language arts counterpart as well as one of my school’s grade-level team leads about my ideas for the school and about my philosophies regarding leadership. These conversations, and the collaborative work that occurs as a result of the conversations, have forced me to grow significantly this year. Their perspectives help me to consider varying points of view, make me pay attention to details I might have otherwise overlooked, and constantly remind me that our work is about people first, outcomes second. I don’t think that I would have had a very successful year without their counsel.
To that end, I suggest that anyone interested in being better…at anything find, join, or create a group of people who share similar goals, have different perspectives, and meet regularly. Your ideas about what is possible will grow significantly as a result and all members of the group will sharpen their respective skill sets as they simultaneously develop new ones.
As always, I’m sure this entry is full of typos or errors of some sort. Forgive me for those. Thank you for reading and sharing.