Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forced To Drink My Own Professional Kool-Aid

      As a student, and certainly as an educator, I have continually strived to be a lifelong learner.  One of the few advantages of getting older is the realization that one can and should continue to learn. 
      And as an educator who has focused more in the recent years in the inherent value of learning and what influences it, I have done lots of analysis on the concepts of change, reflection and risk-taking.  For the sake of this writing, let’s take the concept of risk and its ultimate impact and influence on one’s actual learning.
      This has become more important lately as we move more towards Ed tech integration, project-based approaches and more real world challenges.  Solving real world problems and applying our learning to project-based challenges will always require a certain level of risk.  We risk our untested ideas, our creativity, challenges from working in various teams and groups, evaluation and assessment and more.  

     The experts are now studying this concept of risk and learning.  Greg Siering, the Director of the Center of Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana University/Bloomington, addresses the idea of risk’s influence on both learning and teaching.  
    Siering writes, “Does your course structure encourage intellectual risk-taking and embrace small failures as formative learning opportunities, or does it present failure only as monolithic and punishing? It may seem counter-intuitive to many of us - and many of our students - but learning to take intellectual risks and becoming more comfortable with some levels of failure are vital to our continued growth as learners.”  One can see the complete writing at http://www.indiana.edu/~citl/news/newsStories/dir-feb2012.php as well.

      I have been blessed to work at a project-based, tech-infused and 21st century high school that has challenged students and staff not only to take risks, but to continually aim high, dream big and go all the way professionally.  We call our risk-taking Go Big, Go Pro and Go Now.  One can learn more about Minarets High School at http://www.minarets.us as well.
       It has been fun working to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk.  Examples are everywhere.  Since I have challenged students and staff to be public and publish, I had to become an Edu blogger.  Since I’ve challenged students and staff to apply to present at conferences and events, I continue to also do the same.  Since I challenge students and staff to read professionally, I make myself read professionally.
      This has worked well.  We’ve only existed six years, but have already had award-winning and very innovative students, staff and programs.  Our students have done everything including, but not limited to professionally presenting, performing, publishing and more.  

      Our teachers have pushed themselves to present at conferences, publish their work and even take their skills to train others beyond our campus.  Indeed, we’ve had several teachers leave our school to pursue permanent, professional opportunities in various leadership positions throughout various educational communities. 
      Whereas many systems have often discourage people from pursuing such opportunities, we’ve consciously tried to foster it.  We’ve affectionately called our school ‘an incubator.’  We’ve prided ourselves on pushing one another to new professional heights and embracing where that may take any of us.  Essentially, we’ve created an environment where both students and staff are continually taking risks and learning from it at high levels.
     Well, recently, I was put to the test.  I was faced with a professional opportunity to expand my horizons.  I was offered a new leadership position focused on coaching.  This really tested me, as I love my job and my school.  However, I had to reflect on walking the walk.  I had to reflect on what I’ve continually challenged my teachers and students to do – take risks.  In the end, I had to drink my own professional Kool-Aid.
      And I although that leaving a job that I love or starting a new one are not going to be easy, it will represent my professional growth and development as a lifelong learner.   And when framed that way, how can I go wrong?  I will walk the walk, drink my own professional Kool-Aid and push hard to keep learning at a new and more innovative level.

(photos courtesy of Minarets High School)

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