Monarchs of all we survey

Photo by Alfredi:

Photo by Alfredi:

In 1990 my octogenarian philosophy of education professor, Sister M. with great grandiosity and a dramatic flourish informed the class that we will eventually "get our own classrooms, shut the door, and be Monarchs of all we survey, for that is the nature of Teaching." To us, at the time, it sounded great - I'm the boss, I'm in charge, I'm in control, I'm the one that gets to run the show, I'm the font of knowledge, initiator of change, the academic revolutionary.

I didn't know at the time, but she was quoting William Cowper's poem, "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk". Selkirk was marooned on an island alone for four years. As sole inhabitant, he proclaims his dominion over land and creatures, but decries the misery of his isolation.

Wow. I don't know if that's the message Sister M intended, but that interpretation more accurately reflects the experience of teaching.

That teaching can be an isolating enterprise is no secret. The Atlantic reported only 3% of a teacher's day is spent collaborating. That amounts to just over 10 minutes in an instructional day (I'll bet that it wasn't even 10 consecutive minutes). How, then, do we learn about best practice? When do we get to see exemplary teachers and dynamic classrooms in action? How often do we get to observe, share, learn, reflect, and grow our own capacity as professional teachers?

Save for a handful of PD days throughout the year, teachers have precious little time to engage in deep, meaningful, and productive conversation about our professional practice. Even then, PD days are filled with keynotes, and structured breakout sessions and free time is limited and segmented. A half hour over cinnamon buns and coffee before and an hour for lunch is all there may be.

Ninety minutes free engagement during a conference like this is as much time as teachers have during a two-week period. Proportionally, a full instructional day spent collaborating with groups of teachers is as much time as a month and a half worth of daily collaboration. Extended conversation with colleagues is the difference between simply knowing what someone else is doing and understanding how and why they are doing it. It is even enough time to process possible implementation and real cooperation between classrooms.

Recent grassroots innovations in professional development are changing the model for how teachers pursue PD. TeachMeets use two or seven minute presentations on whatever topic the presenter chooses. It's rather like listening to an extended detailed version of a conference catalogue with the same depth and breadth of topics but much more interesting and inspirational. EdCamps encourage deeper, more interactive engagement providing space and time for participants to talk. Issues are debated, strategies shared, problems addressed, understanding extended, connections made, and initiatives initiated 🙂 .

As teachers break down the figurative barriers between their classrooms and find new ways to connect and collaborate we may mourn the loss of our sole monarchy, but need no longer decry our isolation.

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

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