CEL 2014 Reflections

Leading others and teaching others are the same thing.  This is my biggest takeaway from attending this year’s Conference on English Leadership in Washington D.C.

A leader and a teacher want the same end result: improvement, success, and happiness of those under their care.  Those who are successful as educational leaders–professors, supervisors, classroom teachers–cultivate many of the same qualities, habits of mind and motivations.  While the day-to-day actions of these individuals may vary vastly, their reasons for acting closely relate.

For many of the people I saw and spoke to, they devote incredible energy towards helping others improve, and they recognize that the best way to become better at something is to teach it.  Another way to put this is to say that they lead by example. So, while many may believe that helping others is a use of time that they might spend otherwise, helping others is also a way to better oneself. And in that way, it’s not so selfless.

Aside from learning about these broad, maybe too-philosophical-for-some concepts, I came away with a great sense of responsibility, too. Through seeing so many examples of great teaching and powerful leadership, I consider it a duty to use these practices in the classroom to help my students, and then share these practices and how I’ve used them with other teachers.

Here are a few such ideas that come to mind:

  • Increasing the standard for what it means to write for an authentic audience.  To me, this now means having the finished product leave the classroom, and be shared with other classes, other teachers, school administrators, the local community or public figures.  With technology, this is easier than it has ever been to do.
  • Trusting students to surprise and impress me when they are given the conditions to do so.  To me, these conditions are high expectations, consistent feedback, choice in their learning material, and an opportunity to use their talents to show what they’ve learned.
  • The importance of clear objectives and purposes for all that is done in the classroom. In the reading/writing workshop setting, I often give students time for reading and writing.  This is the independent practice they need. However, to balance this, I must also provided them with well-planned, engaging, and well-delivered instruction so that they see how a more experienced reader and writer thinks through challenging situations.
  • Recognizing that students think much of what we read in school is boring, yet there are so many intriguing, sometimes even unbelievable stories to share–of both fiction and non-fiction.
  • For nearly every skill I want students to learn and practice, there is an engaging, student-centered, interest-driven group of lessons, activities, and/or assessments that will allow students to acquire that skill while enjoying the process (this doesn’t mean every student every time, but most students most of the time)
  • Worthwhile learning opportunities are memorable.  I should consider The Grocery Store Test, as Oona Abrams calls it, when designing assessments.  Will students remember this when we bump into each other in The Grocery Store ten years from now?

The biggest takeaway is not from any specific sessions or conversations, but from the experience as a whole.  Improving at and enjoying teaching (or for some, leading) means finding and surrounding myself with great teachers, whose presence alone pushes me to improve.  This is the same for any pursuit in life: find those who do what you cannot yet do, and learn how they do it.  Then, turn around and look for someone who needs your help.

How do you see the relationship between the titles “teacher” and “leader”?  How do you see the roles overlap or separate themselves in  your life?