Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Synthesizing energy...

flickr CC image via NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Some years ago I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in a three day (over three months,) leadership series with Dr. Leroy Sloan. During one of those days Leroy shared a venn diagram with three circles. In the middle of the circle on the left was the word job. In the circle on the opposite end was the word career. In the middle circle was the word life. Dr. Sloan used the diagram to make the following point...
In the measured contexts of our everyday lives, we know a lot about what people do in their daily jobs (the things they have to do), perhaps a little about their career aspirations (the things they want to do), and not very much at all about their lives away from work- the elements that make them who they are... their families, histories, passions, hobbies, fears, joys etc. There is something inherently defeating about this if we intend to work collaboratively and cooperatively from informed and synergistic perspectives.

I really like the word synergy, often described as the sum being greater that its parts. It's synthesized energy. There is lots of room for more synergy in teaching and learning. Teachers often teach in relative isolation. They have their homeroom class space where most of their daily time is spent with students teaching in relative seclusion, whether as a generalist in elementary school, or a subject specific teacher in middle and high school. This is the job part of what they do. Occasionally teachers choose to leave the classroom to participate in professional development they feel will advance their skills and knowledge. This is the career part of what they do. Who they are; their stories that support what they do as teachers and why, are the elements that make them unique and effective (or not) in their personal teaching contexts. This is the life part of what they do. Energy is spent in all three circles. Becoming more synergistic and collaborative in practice would allow teachers to break away from the relative isolation they sometimes feel. For this to happen, we need to be more authentic as educators by personally and collectively reflecting on our philosophies of teaching and learning, and the life perspectives that shape them, and we have to listen more carefully to the perspectives of those we serve.

I had another great opportunity to do both of these things today with about two hundred or so other Albertans. Alberta Education is on the cusp of introducing new legislation within the province that will govern how teaching and learning occurs. The re-worked Alberta School Act was presented in draft today at a forum called Our Children, Our Future: Getting it Right. I feel very lucky to have been invited to participate in this process, and extremely lucky to live in a place where government cares about what people think, and in particular, what people need from their education system. A broad cross-section of Alberta citizens was represented in the full-day process: students of all ages; parents; community members at large; teachers; administrators; school board members; government officials and others, all present to voice their perspective on what education should look, sound and feel like as our province moves forward in the process of addressing the teaching and learning needs of its citizens.

Dialog was created around four imperatives: creating caring, respectful and safe schools; making learning relevant for all students; keeping students engaged in learning through excellent teaching and setting students up for success in life. The conversation at my table was brilliant. As I listened, learned and shared my perspective today, my thoughts went into overdrive and things I've been meaning to reflect about rushed to the top of my mind... I became excited as I thought about the wide range of topics I will be blogging about over the next while. I felt rejuvenated by the respectful and purposeful collaborative process, and it reminded me once again how powerful and meaningful synthesized energy can be.
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