The Day I Stop Yearning to Learn Is the Day I Will Make the Right Decision for My Students
Updated: Jan 17
One of the most important things I learned early in my corporate career, is that if I wanted to learn and grow professionally, sometimes I had to look outside of my own team (including my manager). This advice has served me well on my journey in public education. I was hired in the summer of 2016 into a brand-new position as a K-5 technology teacher. First of all, what was my principal thinking by hiring someone with ZERO classroom teaching experience, ZERO student teaching experience, into a new position with NO existing curriculum? I look back now and realize he saw that I was willing and ready to learn, but I still question his sanity.
I came to the interview with a binder including the MA Digital Literacy standards as well as a ton of resources from technology teachers I had found on the internet. I shared that I had connected with a tech teacher on Nantucket who was mentoring me. I was also completely honest and told them my only teaching experience was teaching dance for many years, coaching kids in youth sports, training adults, and being a parent of three boys. I hadn’t had the job, nor did I think I was going to get the job, but I knew I needed to come to that interview showing them that I was willing to do the work to learn how to be a teacher. I’m still grateful and shocked that he took a chance on me.
It was not easy, and I made a lot of mistakes (still do!), but I took my own advice and learned from those around me: my fellow Unified Arts teachers and Donna McDonnell, a fantastic technology teacher from a few towns over that parent connected me with. Donna took me under her wing and told me about a guy named Matt Miller, and blew my mind when she introduced me to Twitter for educators. I continued to learn from teachers all over the world because of Twitter, books, blogs, and then I discovered Podcasts.
Last fall I moved into a new role as a tech integration specialist (new title: Innovation Coach). I found myself again in a position that didn’t previously exist in the district. It can be a lonely place to be, however, I had some tools in my back pocket. I knew I had to look outside my district to figure out this new role, just as I had done as a brand new tech teacher, and just as I had done in my previous career. I still don’t have it figured out, but I’m slowly getting there because of all of the other experts out there. I'm proud of the legacy I left behind as a tech teacher, and realize the impact my work has had on our students and teachers - especially when the pandemic hit.
I am always hungry to learn so I can become a better educator for the teachers I serve, but more importantly, for my students. I often feel years behind because I entered this profession so late in life, but chapter 4 “Master Learner, Master Educator” in Innovate Inside the Box helped my confidence as an educator. By constantly learning, I’m not “catching up”; I’m growing into a better educator who can better serve the students in my district.
I always try to bring my learning back to my students (and now teachers), and I have seen the benefits. Everything I learn from teachers in my district and all over the world via Twitter, blogs, conferences, Podcasts, and books has helped me shape and reshape lessons and learning materials/sessions for teachers. One example is my work with a new tech teacher who I am also mentoring. Her path mirrors mine: she was a career changer who left the corporate world to become a teacher. During our meetings, we organically share and ask each other lots of questions. I’ve been sharing what I’ve learned about UDL and more recently the 4 C’s, and she has been a “sponge” taking it in, and redesigning her lessons. She’s allowed me to come and observe some of these lessons, and I can see how this has benefited her students. She does too as she tells me about the way she used to teach the lessons, and how applying the things she’s learned has changed so much for her students and for her as a teacher. She has a goal to redesign one new lesson a week (she teaches 6 different grades) based on everything she has learned. I admire her constant curiosity, desire to be a better teacher, and openness to feedback and trying new things. I have benefited so much from her as she has given me honest feedback and shared some truly phenomenal ideas; I continue to learn from her, and she has made me a better educator.
I’m leading a PD session at a staff meeting this week, and I just changed my last slide to include the questions:
1. What did you learn today?
2. How will your students know what you have learned and how it will benefit their own development?
I want the session to be meaningful and useful, and if they can’t answer these questions, I need to do a better job of connecting what I’m teaching them to how it will benefit their students.
I was successful in my previous career because I worked hard. But honestly, I rarely cared to continue learning about things that would benefit my work unless it had to do with leadership. Looking back, that was a sign for me to switch careers. I related to the principal in chapter 4 who decided to retire because he essentially no longer wanted to continue learning and growing.
My career and passion have finally crossed paths, and I am filled with gratitude. But the day I no longer yearn to learn is the day I’ll make the right decision for my students.