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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Get Your Learnin' On

Today there's some good news. Today, the field of education has become stable. The profession has reached its pinnacle. For the first time ever, there is no new information. There are no new research studies. There is no better mousetrap. The methods we use are the Best Practices possible, and there is nothing awaiting us around the next corner. All we need to do, as teachers and school leaders, is to perfect what we already know -- and then we never have to learn to do anything new or differently.

Wake up! You're dreaming!

Education fluctuates more than a rattlesnake's temperature. Maybe it's a pendulum. Perhaps it's a cycle. It could be a spiral. Possibly it's an atomic explosion, who knows? The point is this: With all the resources at our disposal, and the information at our fingertips, all the data clamoring to capture our attention, all the advancements in learning, and all the research supporting new and innovative strategies, this business of education changes daily.

Education fluctuates more than a rattlesnake's temperature. Maybe it's a pendulum. Perhaps it's a cycle. Conceivably it's a spiral. Possibly it's an atomic explosion, who knows?

Daily, I tell you.

We can always do better today than we did yesterday, and we can invariably do better than that tomorrow.

In order to stay abreast of the latest and greatest teaching methods, school structures, innovative strategies, comprehensive programs, detailed research, and curriculum materials, we need to avoid resting on our laurels. We cannot wait for two years, heads buried in the sand, then emerge and ask, 'What did I miss? What do I need to do to catch up?' Education moves much too fast for that.


What can we do to keep our heads in the game? How can we ensure that our learning is running parallel to the profession itself? Where can we look for the information we need to lead our schools well into the 21st Century? Well, loyal readers, downloading this column and bookmarking is a good start. Here are some other ideas:

Join a professional organization--or three.
Are you a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)? How about the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) or the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)? Have you joined Phi Delta Kappa? The International Reading Association (IRA)? National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)? National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)? The list is endless, and each of these professional organizations offers up-to-date research and articles in its journal, as well as a plethora of other resources: CDs, books, regional and national conferences, guides, blogs, newsletters, and more.

Read, read, read.
In addition to the journals published by the resources above, there is a variety of materials out there just yearning to be picked up and read. Education Week is the nation's education newspaper and provides articles ranging from worldwide education to political candidates' positions on schooling and everything in between. Don't have time to go through all the journals and magazines? No worries. Kim Marshall, a lifelong educator, summarizes the key articles from 44 journals in his Marshall Memo; he takes the guesswork out of our professional reading.

Grab a book.
There are a lot of good books on education out there. Yes, it's difficult to tell who is a credible author and which methods will yield positive results for your work in your school, but that's the beauty of thinking while you're reading. Take the cap off the highlighter, open the book, and start critically reading. If you have trouble dedicating the time to such professional reading, recruit the involvement of colleagues and use their peer pressure. Start a book club -- read the text, discuss it together, and create some action plans to make use of your new learning. Between professional books, you'll still have time for the latest fiction bestseller.

Sit in on your teachers' collaborative meetings.
We already do this for accountability, to provide the resources at our disposal, and to help analyze data, but how often do we sit down with our best and brightest teachers just to learn? It's amazing what our people know. Listen to them. Crash a grade-level's team meeting and point your ears inward. Invite your specialists to breakfast and listen to them banter. Ask your experts to attack a challenging curriculum problem, sit back, have some popcorn, and take notes. Don't have any superstars? Get a second opinion -- every school does.

Teach a class.
The sky's the limit here. This could mean you take over a kindergarten for an hour and teach them the concept of subtraction, or it could mean you lead a whole-staff professional-development session on the use of formative assessments. Perhaps you interpret this as guest-lecturing at the local college in a beginning teacher's class, or leading a session at a regional education conference. Research tells us we retain 10-15 percent of what we hear in a workshop, but 90 percent sticks with us if we teach it to someone else. So go take this on, especially in an area you might not consider yourself an expert in. The learning curve is steep, but worth the climb.

Sure, some of the items in this list cost money. So does breakfast, but you don't skip the most important meal of the day, do you? Eschewing your own learning is a health crime against your professional well-being, and we, as educational leaders, have the responsibility to know what's going on in the world of education. Then, and only then, can we make strides to lead the growth and progress our schools deserve.

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World