…but keeping them burning? That’s a whole ‘nother matter.
My friend & colleague Jessica Cincotta blogged last week about the professional reading groups in which she and I have participated this year. Read her post for the details, but the “quick n’ dirty” is that Jessica and I actually participated in two groups over the course of the school year – a year-long, monthly group with our other friend & colleague Yvette Panasowich, and a six-week book study over the course of April and May that was just the two of us. Below are some of my thoughts on why this worked (read: was sustainable throughout the whole year in spite of the many potential “time sucks” and other obligations conspiring against us) when so many other well-meaning initiatives fizzle out.
We initiated these groups. This idea was borne out of an activity during another (unrelated) PD session we were in together, and while I wish there was a more eloquent way of saying it, once the idea was out there, we kind of just took the ball and ran with it. We chose reading material that interested us; nobody told us that we were to participate in professional reading groups this year, and nobody assigned us particular readings. It was all self-generated, which leads nicely into the next point.
We owned the schedule and held each other accountable. It would have been very easy to give lip service to the idea in the original PD meeting, then have it float away with all the other good ideas anyone’s ever had but never got around to implementing the minute we walked out the door. Before we left, however, we figured out a schedule (the group we did with Yvette met the last Wednesday of the month at 2:30pm; the book study I did with Jessica met weekly on Fridays, also at 2:30pm) and put it on our all-important Outlook calendars. We didn’t have time, we made time.
As the weeks and months progressed, we would email each other periodically to confirm that we were all still on for the upcoming get-togethers. While life did intrude from time to time that either required delays or re-schedules, I don’t think we’ve missed or skipped any of our monthly reading group meetings this year (maybe one out of ten, if that?) and only one of the book study meetings (that was due to a true emergency, and we caught up the following week). It probably didn’t hurt that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company as well, but even so, the discussions easily could have devolved into socializing sessions if not for one thing:
We found value in the task. As Jessica details in her post, we found value in discussing the articles and book chapters, not only for our own professional learning and reflecting on our own practice, but also in our role as teacher evaluators. Like Jessica, I also found myself referencing things we read in my discussions with my teacher and administrator colleagues more and more frequently. The best professional learning experiences have direct implications and impact on one’s practice, and I feel that the experiences I had with Yvette and Jessica this year definitely impacted my practice for the better.
Next up is a summer reading group of four administrators, in which we’ll be reading a different book, and then the plan for 2017-2018 is to continue with the monthly reading groups (primarily articles from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine) while doing one book study in the fall and one in the spring.
I read a ton, and most of the books I read are about education. While I enjoy the act of solitary reading, it’s also nice to be able to bounce my thoughts about what I’ve read off someone else. In the case of the makeup of our reading group, I think we struck a nice balance between similarities (all administrators in the same district so we have a similar contextual basis for discussion; all have secondary ed experience and/or focus in our current positions) and differences (1 building administrator, 2 instructional supervisors; 2 women, 1 man; a high school assistant principal, a 7-12 math/science supervisor, and a K-12 technology/arts supervisor; teaching backgrounds too varied to list). Having a variety of viewpoints made the discussions valuable and thought-provoking beyond the written content.
This has been one of the more valuable professional learning experiences of my career (mirroring, in many ways, what first attracted me to the burgeoning education community on Twitter ten years ago), and it’s a practice I hope to continue – to one extent or another – throughout my career.