(Update: in 2020 we made an intentional change to the name of the group discussed in this post. Story on that coming up soon)
I started the hashtag #theteachertribe and, soon after, the Facebook group because it felt right. One of those things you do because you can’t not do it. So I did. Then last week I had three people, separately, ask me to tell them about my choices when leading professional development. Each of these three people clarified that they didn’t want to know about the content of the professional development nor did they want to know about the design principles. They wanted to know about the love.
Love is something I know I lead with. I’m pretty good at a lot of things but I’m only really good at one thing–Love. So I thought about this notion of Love in professional development and then I thought about The Teacher Tribe. And, soon enough, I realized they are one in the same.
Below is my message to my friends and colleagues who inquired. I’m thinking it’s also the message of what I do, how I do it, and why I do it.
The most important charge I feel I have as a leader of professional development is to create community. It’s larger than this, of course, but this is the center for me. I’m very intentional about grounding whatever group I work with in this intention: a community based in Outrageous Love for ourselves, for our kids, and for each other.
This started for me with one session at a state social studies conference in 2010. I was there to talk about research papers and how important it was for us to teach our kids how to write them, even if it was hard—SO HARD—for us to do. Something in that hour shifted for me as I watched this group of teachers honestly and vulnerably grapple with their challenges and set themselves up for how to persevere anyway. As I watched and listened, I had one thought and one thought only, “These folks are showing up.”
They were showing up, this group of strangers, for each other, in service to their kids. At the end of that hour I knew I had witnessed something special.
It was the spontaneous creation of community.
I did nothing that day but show up, prepared and open hearted, to share what I had learned with a group of folks and hear from them what they knew to be true. And still, this hour took over my heart and mind for days to come. The truth of the matter is, I showed up too.
I realized that day and in the years since that have been extraordinarily lucky to have been able to watch and work with the best of the best. The work of these people is evident in everything I do. I observed them very carefully in order to tease out what it is that made each of them special and then took even more time with all of the lessons from all of that specialness and put it together with a lot of hard-ass work.
Showing up is not glamorous, But it’s true.
What I’ve come to know since that day in 2010 is that many people can be good at teaching just like many can be good at facilitating professional development (the heart of both, I happen to believe, are grounded in the same things). I think what sets people who are great apart from those who are good is the intention and preparation and implementation of not only what is intellectual and academic, but also what is emotional. We have to show up. All of us with all of us; not just all of our brains, but all of our hearts too.
This means really getting clear on our beliefs, what we value, what we want people to do for what reason, and how all of that lives in the art of teaching.
All of my professional development is based on these Fundamental Beliefs:
- We can all be our own version of great
- People know how to solve their own problems
- People are doing the best they can
- Struggle, stuckness, and negativity are not flaws; they are fear
- We have more to learn than we have to teach
- Students (no matter their age) are our spiritual teachers
- Teaching and learning are spiritual acts
All of my professional development is grounded in these Core Values:
- Cultural ways of learning are fundamental assets
- We must act with all appropriate urgency
- We are at our best when we are in service to and with others
All of my professional development is geared around these Calls to Action:
- Find a Way
- Use your Voice
- Better Together
All of my professional development is designed to breathe life into these Characteristics and how they live in a classroom:
And then, the hard part. We have to walk the talk. Unabashedly, unflinchingly open hearted in our knowing of ourselves and our work. Come what may.
This is disorienting to some. In a world that purports the importance of an intentionally crafted image, showing up vulnerably yourself can be unsettling to others in the room. People usually end up feeling one of two ways: intense relief or intense skepticism. Both are ok. Because people are absolutely free to feel how they want to feel. You know you are showing up clear and focused and prepared. How they receive you and your work is, frankly, none of your business.
What is your business is the act of preparation. It is inexcusable to ask for someone’s time and then to waste it. You must be organized. You must be well read. You must have a stimulating lesson plan that is both reflective of best practice and thoughtfully designed with your audience in mind. In short, you must be on point.
Included in preparation is the intentional creation of a space where people can feel held in their discomfort. Where people can stretch and test and expand and fill up—intellectually and emotionally. A place where they can question you and each other, a place where they can disagree with you and each other. And all of it is ok because we recognize and respect that we are living our fundamental beliefs, our core values, our calls to action, and our character. And, above all, all of it is ok because we are here in service to each other and our kids.
This shows up in every instructional decision and move we make. We tell people what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why we are doing it. We admit our mistakes and our misunderstandings and when we misspeak or hurt someone and even, especially, when we simply don’t have an answer. We appreciate people for who they are and what they do and the art of teaching they have come here to develop. They have come here to develop it with us. That is humbling and it is an honor for us to hold with great respect.
So we tell people we appreciate them. We tell people we love them. We tell people we are inspired by them and we do so because it’s all true. We do appreciate them and love them and are inspired by them because we truly believe people are doing the very best they can. More to the point, everyone in the room has assets and gifts we don’t. Our job is to seek them out and let them shine.
Because when people shine, they are more open to learning. And once they learn, they shine some more. Learning is a feedback loop and there are only two directions that feedback loop runs: toward love or toward fear. We must choose and act wisely and with precise intention because our most important job is to get that learning loop going in the direction of love.
Each and every time I facilitate a professional development experience, I work extraordinarily hard to prepare and to deliver in the name of love.
For me, love starts with community.
For me, that is the very essence of #theteachertribe