I’m on Vacation
One of my favourite movies is City Slickers (1991). In this movie Mitch Robbins, Billy Crystal, and his two friends decide to take their vacation on a dude ranch. There’s a scene part way through the movie that begins with Crystal’s character causing a stampede by firing up his electric coffee grinder. The ensuing chaos results in a cow wandering off and Crystal and the old farmhand Curly Washburn, played by Jack Palance, chasing after it. After finding the cow, the two end up having to spend the night sleeping away from the camp. At one point, Mitch is playing his harmonica while Curly sharpens his knife. Mitch finally tells Curly to either kill him or put the knife away because, as he puts it, “I’m on vacation!”
When does the Vacation begin?
All July I’ve been dropping by Twitter only to find a mountain of tweets being posted about various conferences and all the people who are attending in person or who are taking in things virtually. I’m not just talking about ISTE10 or BLC10 or the first annual online Reform Symposium but so many other conferences and workshops all vying for the time of teachers during the summer. In fact, there isn’t a time that is really conference free. And because most of these conferences are now available via the web, educators can be PDing all month long, extending into August with ads/tweets for conferences only 6 weeks away!
In one way this is great. I mean, for the first time teachers are able to take in a huge variety of conferences and other PD activities at their leisure. These conferences are bringing together the best thinkers and innovators in education to share with others. It really seems that there is a huge swell of teachers who are interested in education reform in a way that is very different than previous reform. It is bringing educators together on a global level to share and talk, learn and grow and become connected in ways that haven’t been seen before.
However, I wonder at what cost to teachers personally? Now, I know that George Couros was only kidding when he commented about the holidays and not needing them. But, as you can read in my comment, talk like that really does make me nervous. Maybe it’s from 20 or more years of not really taking any holidays, summer or otherwise, as I worked at improving what I did as an educator only to begin to realize that, really, there is no end and if I didn’t start to prioritize things a bit differently I would miss out on a great many things in my own backyard. Maybe it’s from talking with my mom, who worked for over 30 years in the health care profession and who wasn’t able to really take any time away, about what is important now and later in life. Or maybe it’s that I have a very unique lot in life – 8 children – two families really – and I can identify some of the things that I did with my older girls that I can do differently now – there is still time.
It Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Passionate
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about improving education and improving what we offer our students in schools and out – I have a very high interest in this – 8 very important people who mean more to me than anything. Period. I believe that education is indeed in need of change in a great number of ways from the way we look at assessment, to pedagogy, to what we expect from teachers and everyone else in education to the whole way we conceptualize “school”.
A Cautionary Tale
However, I wonder if, once again, we are charging forward with reform without taking some time to reflect. I don’t mean to say we should stop but I do wonder if, by creating an atmosphere of “always buzzing” about this or that conference on some social network, the expectation of “constant conferencing” isn’t going to overwhelm and burnout some the best and brightest of our teachers. Not the IT or tech integration specialists or special district/division/school technology assistant person but the teacher.
As an administrator, I’ve watched many young teachers arrive at school full of ideas and energy. I’ve worked enough years to know that, if I don’t make sure they take care of themselves, watch what they do and spend time on all aspects of their lives – social/emotional, intellectual, physical, work, spiritual – that I will be dealing with a young teacher who will, at some point, be in trouble. I’ve watched colleagues leave the profession because no one took the time to help them to take care of all aspects and I’ve watched good young teachers and good veteran teachers who, with the increasing demands of teaching, choose to leave. As the leader in the school, I need to help those around me find balance. And, the people in the building need to see that I take this approach myself. As a parent who wants to pass on some important life lessons to my children, I want them to be able to see that we need to maintain a balance otherwise ……
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him” Cat’s in the Cradle
Like I said earlier, although all these conferences are great, there needs to be caution at overwhelming teachers who, through their eagerness, don’t realize they need to step back.
As the Leader, I set the Tone and the Pace
As the Educational Leader in the school, I need to be conscious of the fact that how I use my time affects the others in the building. How I view new ideas and explore new teaching strategies, my attitude towards central office ideas, my outlook on what is happening at the school, division, provincial, national and international levels all impact the overall atmosphere and how teachers view what they are doing and what they might want to be doing.
My experience is that if the educational leader in the building doesn’t take time to reflect and be selective about what and how the various activities involving teachers are presented and what is happening in the school, isn’t willing to share the leadership with others within the building and isn’t concerned about the overall well being of all people in the building, then, eventually, an imbalance will occur and unnecessary stressors will take away from the energy in the building.
Having witnessed and worked within these very circumstances as I’ve described in a number of schools where the principal wasn’t aware of the impact they had on setting the tone and pace for the school, my experience in every circumstance was that teachers became overwhelmed and progress, as a school, stopped. Yes, some teachers were able to forge ahead on their own but they became isolated and eventually somewhat embittered and moved on. Having been a principal who didn’t recognize the influence and impact of what I was doing, I was a major part of the problem but, not seeing the imbalance or understanding the overall impact, worked harder to make it better. It didn’t.
Be Aware of Others Life/Teaching Cycles
We’re not all first year teachers or in mid-career or nearing the end. We’re not all single, or just married, or have small children or teenagers or have children leaving home. We’re all at different stages in both our careers and our lives. As an educational leader, I need to be aware of where, in life and career, other people are as this impacts their work/teaching lives and, working with the other leaders within the building, move people along while allowing for where they are in their teaching/life. It doesn’t mean allowing them to not move but being sure to provide the necessary supports to make the move positive. It may mean encouraging them to partake in various training or summer symposiums or connecting with other teachers via social networks or incorporating various strategies, like wiki use or blogging, in their teaching or expanding their repertoire of strategies to expand their understanding of differentiation in the classroom or…. but, to do so in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm them.
So, as summer is progressing and I’m beginning to think about the upcoming year, I know that there will be a huge number of changes through this year. As the educational leader, one of my roles to help the people navigate these changes through the year along with all the rest of things going on as they teach each day. But, for now, “I’m on vacation” and taking care of some of the other important areas of life.