Tangled up in School – A Slightly Contrarian View for the edSocialMedia Crowd

If you read my blog with any regularity (mom, that was for you), you know that I feel tremendously fortunate to work with the people who walk the halls of my school. On any given day, I have the chance to tangle, and I mean that in every sense of the word, with Bill Stites or David Korfhage or Reshan Richards or a bunch of other genuinely good human beings who are deeply concerned with the work of helping young people reach their potential. These folks ensure that my only comfort zone is the act of questioning my comfort zone regularly and thoroughly. This practice has been helpful, career altering, life changing. . . .


If any other practice has served me well in my time at my school, it’s the instinct to keep tension alive in my work. The ideal and the pragmatic. The teacher I want to be and the teacher my students need me to be. Doing school and reflecting on the doing of school. Though we all tend to favor one side or the other in these kinds of forced dichotomies, the tensions they represent shouldn’t be fully resolved, fully put to bed. Instead, I think the work of education, and especially educational leadership, gathers energy and clarity from the act of dialing between tensions in search of the right frequency.


One of the best tensions I have found exists in the world of professional development (and, by extension, social media). Clearly we grow by leaving our schools; by learning from other people at other schools; by attending great conferences and seminars; by following others online. But we also grow by rolling up our sleeves to engage in the life of our own schools. We must be open to the outside world and the world inside our school buildings.


I’ve been thinking about this tension in light of my own interactions with what might be called my Personal Learning Network (PLN). An important element of the PLN movement is the fact that you don’t have to know the people in your PLN. You build such a network, in fact, with the sole intention of learning with that group and through that group. You might meet members of your PLN when you attend a conference or event, but it’s not likely that most, or even many, members of your PLN will appear in your school building. Membership in a PLN, therefore, has its privileges. Because folks in your PLN often don’t work down the hall, folks in your PLN won’t forget to erase the board as they leave a classroom in which you are about to teach. They won’t borrow your markers and never return them. They won’t park in your parking space when someone else parked in their space. They won’t make too much noise in the hallway when you’re trying to teach. And as a result, since they don’t push your buttons or pet your peeves, it often seems (and is) significantly easier to talk about school with them or to share a wild idea with them.


Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great to be open to the outside world, to the provocative conference speaker, to prolific tweeters and bloggers, to the compelling idea from the school across the country. But we shouldn’t ever stop opening ourselves to our own school communities. Shouldn’t ever stop thinking that the colleague down the hall contains a universe of insight. Shouldn’t ever think that a member of our community isn’t worth challenging or pushing. Shouldn’t ever stop working to strengthen our local ties — our messy, daily, hard, close, tangled relationships — simply because we can find interesting voices and perspectives everywhere, at the end of every click, every day. With the irony of the context in which I am currently speaking duly noted, I urge you to look up past your computer screen and see the person directly in front of you, directly to the right or left of you, directly in your care. What you do next is up to you and determines so much for the health and success of your school.


[Originally posted here: http://www.refreshingwednesday.com/my_weblog/2012/10/tangledup.html]

Stephen Valentine

Stephen Valentine

Assistant Head of the Upper School at Montclair Kimberley Academy

Bio: Stephen J. Valentine, an administrator and a teacher, serves as the Assistant Head of Upper School and Director of Academic Leadership at Montclair Kimberley Academy, blogs at www.refreshingwednesday.com, and is the coordinating editor of the Klingenstein Center’s Klingbrief. He is the author of Everything but Teaching (2009) and co-author of Leading Online: Leading the Learning, Leading by Learning (2014).