As a Principal, I seek to be sensitive to the timing of requests that I make of faculty. Teaching is a tough job with many demands. Some of these demands are driven by responsibilities scheduled on the calendar – reporting periods, extensive planning at the outset of the school year, parent-teacher conference days, and so on. I find myself regularly considering what else is being asked of teachers when I initiate specific requests or plan learning opportunities. Yet, as professional as teachers can be and as engaged as they are in their own learning, I often hear the common refrain – “It’s just a hard time of year”. The implication being that engaging teachers in that dialogue or activity would be better done at another time of the year! But, that time is tricky to find.
When is the best time? Time is that elusive need for educators. Time is what everyone would like to have more of every week. The demands for planning, marking, meeting with students, meeting with colleagues and communicating with parents are significant. Teaching is a world in which your list of tasks feels endless and you always feel there is more you can do. Planning 4 to 6 week units of study, for example, is a task with endless updates, rubrics to perfect, assessment tasks to reflect upon and re-write, daily plans to reconsider, discussions to review. One can always do more. A unit of study is always growing and improving.
So, when is the best time to ask faculty to explore ideas with new technologies? When is the best time to generate dialogue about assessment writing? When is the best time for faculty to engage in meaningful discussions about the importance of feedback for student learning? When should teachers talk with colleagues about what truly engages students in their learning and what techniques seem to support learning in their discipline?
It is essential to move adults forward with these discussions. It is essential to engage teachers in reflective dialogue? Facilitating teacher growth, through reflective opportunities, is my job. That’s my commitment to adult and student learning. That won’t change. Careful planning is obviously needed.
Having said that, I don’t necessarily believe in the response “it’s just not a good time”. If I believed that general response, I would be limited in planning adult learning opportunities to probably 4 short windows of time each year where the non-classroom responsibilities are somewhat diminished. The commitment to learning must be an ongoing expectation in an organization. We have a calendar separated by mid semester, mid year, and end of the year breaks. We have regular events that take time and we have to plan carefully. Pressure builds towards the end of each quarter, but that doesn’t mean we should not exploit these times for reflection and learning. I believe each day is an opportunity for student and adult learning. As professionals, we must exploit opportunities that present themselves. We must manage our stressors and time commitments. Learning should be close to the center of our lives. Of course our energy for activity, reflection, and learning is diminished at certain times but giving our best shot at each opportunity is an essential commitment we make to ourselves and our students. Clearly communicating a vision and beliefs about adult learning is important and careful prioritizing, planning and communicating around learning opportunities is critical.
It’s true that some days don’t really present optimal conditions for adult learning but staying true to the vision and importance of facilitating adult learning on a regular basis is part of my goal and vision in my work as an educational leader.