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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What If We Stopped Trying to Learn So Much?

By Peter DeWitt — July 26, 2013 3 min read
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The other day I found myself mentally exhausted after reading my Twitter feed for twenty minutes. I began to get a headache from information overload, and worried that I wasn’t learning fast enough. The people I follow or engage with on Twitter were posting comments about education reform, their favorite new dinner recipes, copies of their parent communication documents, the best new tech-tool, pictures of their classroom after they set it up for the new year, and retweets of every blog known to man. I couldn’t keep up!

I know that there are critics of Twitter who believe that it is like trying to drink water from a fire hose, and I get that analogy. I could have used Tweetdeck to weed through what I didn’t care about and what I did. But I seriously froze looking at the screen. Everything was scrolling so fast!

It made me think...do we try to learn too much?

And then, as I switched over to Facebook to get a break from Twitter my friend Greg made a comment on a blog I posted regarding educational consultants. I used to teach with Greg, and now he lives a much more exotic life living and teaching in Australia. Greg wrote,

I'd like to challenge any school to go "consultant free" and "PD free" for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I'd bet that school would do better than all the rest."

(Before you pass judgment on me, I am a big fan of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools. IN ADDITION, I am a fan of self-discovery and life-long learning. I don’t like going with the status-quo AND I do feel we all need to stretch our thinking).

However, I could not help but wonder if we try to learn too much.

Too often we want to challenge ourselves, which in itself is not a bad thing. However, some educators have an overwhelming need to read as many blogs as they can and make as many changes possible...only to find that they may not be able to keep up with the changes. We should never change for change sake.

Greg’s World
We all seem to be suffering from our own initiative fatigue. In addition to implementing the changes that are being forced upon us, we are also trying to stretch our own thinking. Some of us are flipping our parent communication and faculty meetings, researching ways to improve our leadership practices, or diving into old data to see what we need to change about our instruction.

At the same time we are doing our own learning, and dealing with the forced changes, we have to engage in trainings and professional development to learn about the changes that are being forced upon us. Some educators are not only being trained about the changes, they are being trained how to be turn-key trainers to teach others about those changes. Wow! I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

So what if Greg is right? What if we took a break from professional development? Would we really stop learning altogether...or would we actually get more done? More importantly than that, would we be less stressed and more engaging to the partners we go home to?

This is probably way too honest but I’m already stressed and the school year is still more than a month away from beginning. That’s not good! And I will get it under control but do you feel the same way? We are so worried about making the right changes that we are searching for resource after resource in an effort to make sure we don’t make a mistake.

High Quality Professional Development
How good are these professional development trainings anyway? I’m not talking about Edcamps, because those are clearly engaging to participants. I’m talking about professional development sessions put on by our regional or state counterparts? Do those professional development sessions inspire us...or just stress us out even more?

In a perfect world without so much accountability and so many mandates, it would be great if we could inspire all educators to delve into their own self-discovery without the pressures of district wide professional development and regional trainings. Unfortunately, we know that can’t happen, because although most teachers know how to teach, they now have to learn how to teach the Common Core, and prove they can do it.

For me, Greg’s comment was less about educators turning the learning switch to off, and more about turning it on to the learning they value, and not the learning that others believe we should value (and yes, I know that sounds like unschooling).

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.