Here’s one of the problems with traditional forms of professional development: I’m invited to come in for a handful of days, kick up some dust, get people who are hungry for progress excited about the possibilities, and then…..typically for reasons beyond anyone’s control…… I leave.
When I leave? Those possibilities often settle to the floor with all of that dust I was invited to kick up.
How does this happen?
It happens because the administrator who brought me in leaves. It happens because the budget is gutted. It happens because staff development days are cut. It happens because the people who aren’t hungry for progress are louder and more powerful than the people who are. Sometimes, it happens because people are terrified. Sometimes, it happens because people are comfortable.
Three years ago, the reasons stopped mattering altogether.
I simply grew tired of leaving.
So I left, in order to stay.
I began my career in professional development as a Coordinator on the Instructional Resources Team at Erie 1 BOCES. We were a small team, and we served close to thirty local school districts. During my tenure, I worked in all of them, and this meant that the support I could truly provide to people was limited. In those days, I spent a lot of time leaving. I didn’t like this, the people I was hired to serve didn’t like this, and my organization didn’t like this either. At the time, resolving that dilemma was nearly impossible, though. It began to feel like it was time for a change.
As I began dreaming of what was possible, I found myself returning to another problem with traditional forms of professional development: in my experience, kids rarely notice even a subtle shift in the quality of their learning experiences as a result of my handful of days with their teachers.
And another dilemma? Positioning myself as a sage on a stage never does anyone any favors. Most people are eager to learn. They’re craving conversation and connection with others. The support they want from me often needs to happen in their classrooms, not in conference rooms. They want me to come around more often, and they want me to bring a crowd of other people I know with me–people who share their passions and who face the same dilemmas that they do.
Teachers don’t need answers from me. They need to learn with one another.
And so I founded the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, and I sunk it into the communities where I’ve been called upon to kick up dust. So now, regardless of what these difficult times might bring, Studio stays. We’re intent on becoming a community that lasts.
The WNY Young Writer’s Studio grew out of the gifts that were given to me by everyone at Communities for Learning. We aren’t a workshop, a camp, or a club. We’re a fellowship of kids and teachers devoted to the exploration of what great writing is, how to produce it, and how to help others do the same. We’re about using our words to enrich our own lives and to be a force for good in other places–particularly inside of the organizations that we come from. Studio teachers are the same teachers I facilitate professional development with inside of schools. I’m an instructional coach in some of their buildings. I’ve been called upon to lead curriculum design or mapping initiatives in others. Some of us are engaged in inquiry cycles and collegial learning together. And while a few teachers still only see me a couple of times a year, experiences like this have become fewer and further between now, and learning from me is less of a priority.We have each other and the wisdom cultivated within our extended networks now.
So, regardless of how teachers come to know me and one another, this simple fact remains: Studio exists and grows outside of the school system. It’s hosted by me but more and more often now–it’s facilitated by all– and because of that, it stays.
No matter what.
As we enter our fourth season together, we’ve been taking some time to reflect on where we began and where we are heading now. The year ahead of us is the year of teachers who write with and learn from their students. We’ll be deepening our understanding of writer’s notebooks and reflective practice, refining the ways we learn with one another, and reconciling the CCS with what we know of best practice. As teachers begin to share the dilemmas they face in their professional work and learning, we will shape our conversations and work in ways that align with their needs.
In a time when many professional learning opportunities are being lost, we’re just beginning to find ourselves.
And we hope you’ll join us there.
Registration is free, and teachers may earn up to 40 hours of professional development credit for their fellowship with us.
For more information, you can contact me here.