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Professional Development: Nourishment

Broadening your PD horizons helps you connect better with peers and students

By Mac Bogert

Whatever happens this summer, we can be certain that the upcoming school year will be packed with new challenges. In this transition leading up to the new semester, we can rejuvenate as we balance vacation, catching up with our family and our household projects, and fulfilling required (or recommended) professional development. Let’s not forget nourishing ourselves. Here are a couple of suggestions to maintain and enrich our most important resource: us.

Expand our Developmental Horizons

For the formal part of professional development, try mixing some linear work―a class in your field of study or technology, for instance―with some non-linear work, say a class in singing or improv or movement or photography. As we multiply our experience, we grow more comfortable with insight that expands our understanding of connections and meaning. This increases our flexibility and our tendency to see learning in terms of possibilities rather than merely in terms of the answer. Paulo Freire tells us that ‘Liberating education consists of acts of insight, not transferals of information.’¹ The broader our horizon, the more able we are to connect learning to others’ needs rather than trying to fit their understanding into any pre-conceived outcomes. We know from research as well as from experience that meaning arrives through connection to value, and value arises through individual experience.

Treasure a New Cadence

Take some time to nourish your cadence. I’m a lifelong musician, and―though it took me some years to appreciate this―the power in music comes from the empty spaces, the “fall” in volume: Cadence. So find ways to slow down, to pause. When we’re going, going, going, our mental, emotional, and spiritual grace is curtailed by the constant stream of adrenaline and cortisol in our blood. By grace, I mean the still place of insight and connection. When we’re struggling for space to breathe, caught up in busyness, we are cut off from connection, reflection, and flexibility. As Alan Lightman (In Praise of Wasting Time) suggests: ‘We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.’

Frame New Connections

Finally, give some time to reflect on your relationships with your fellows―other teachers, administrators, staff. ‘Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships,’ says Margaret Wheatley, one of the smartest and most genuine leaders I know. I found I was a much better teacher when I opened myself up to my peers. I learned that every connection I put energy into gave me support and resources I didn’t suspect were there because I hadn’t looked. ‘How can I listen better, be more open, and ask for help?’ were tough questions for this independent, stubborn teacher. Practicing vulnerability helped me connect better with my peers, and that ended up helping me connect better with my students. ¹Paulo Freire quotation from https://globalteachers.org

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