We Have to Find a Way: Five Strategies to Help Educators Learn for Life

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Learning for Life: It's Not Just for Students
By Rachael George

Learning for Life: It's Not Just for Students When was the last time you heard an educator mention all the extra time she had on her hands? Think hard. You probably haven’t heard many educators say this. Let’s face it, as educators, every minute counts. We are slammed with our professional and personal lives on a daily basis. Don’t get us wrong, we love what we do; we are just darn busy.

So how do you find the time to grow professionally and be a lifelong learner while also being a rock star with your students? Check out the strategies and approaches below for a few simple ways to keep your own professional development and learning seamlessly integrated into your daily life.

Get Connected

Professional development and learning doesn’t get any simpler than being a connected educator! If you aren’t connected to other educators through social media or other forms of technology, you’re missing out! The wealth of information, knowledge, ideas, and support shared on Twitter alone is a game changer. When I moved from being an administrator at the middle school level down to the elementary, my personal learning network on Twitter was a huge support and help. Are you not a Twitter fan? Tap into the educational groups on Facebook, Pinterest, or Voxer—these platforms all have a significant educational presence as well.

Read, Read, Read

We preach this from the mountain to our students. We try to find books for students that they will be interested in and that will have a connection to their lives. When was the last time you made a point to read a book pertaining to your profession? Too often, we hear that we don’t have time to read books so we just skim blog posts and articles or listen to podcasts on the way to and from work. These are all great strategies, but they aren’t a substitute for the information and learning that a book provides. If you don’t think you have time to sit down and read a full book, break it into chunks. Try reading a single chapter every Sunday evening before heading to bed or shooting for just a few pages a day. Still can’t find the time to read? Consider audio books as an option if you have a long commute or need something to listen to while cleaning the house or going for a run. As educators, it’s easy for complacency to set in and let the job become routine. Don’t stop learning!

Get Involved

Just like students, we learn a lot from each other. If your building or district doesn’t participate in professional learning communities, seek one out! There are many options online that customize their focus based on grade levels, subjects, and interests. Not into social media or technology? There are always options for training and networking on the weekends through local edcamps and subject area associations. For example, our statewide math network meets every few months on weekends to “talk math,” and our local reading association meets consistently and plans affordable professional development.

Make It a Priority

The famous saying “what we pay attention to grows” is very true when it comes to professional development and being a lifelong learner. We have to make it a priority! If we aren’t learning and pushing ourselves to get better, how do we expect others to follow suit? As an administrator, I take pride in being an instructional leader. I firmly believe that the only way I can continue to lead is to constantly seek out opportunities to grow and learn. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those we lead, and, most important, we owe it to our students to be the best possible educators we can be. Personal growth is never ending. Just as we encourage and demand growth from our students, we should encourage and demand growth in ourselves. Life is a continuous improvement process.

Pick Your Friends Wisely

Your mom did know best when she gave you this advice in middle school, and it still holds true today as an adult. The people that you choose to associate with professionally and personally will play a major role in how you approach learning and growing. If you are surrounding yourself with colleagues that read and discuss books, participate in Twitter chats, or seek out professional development, you will find that you naturally start to do the same. If your friends make excuses for “leaving work at work,” you are more likely to find yourself doing the same. We rise up to the expectation level of those around us without even realizing it. Trust me, the influence of colleagues and friends can and will make or break you.

As educators today, we must know and understand that we will always be busy. If we want to be good at what we do, if we want to influence each and every student that we teach, and if we want to learn, grow, and continually improve, we have to make learning a priority and embed it into our daily lives. Simply put . . . we have to find a way!

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Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and is currently the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary school principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School,” as recognized by the Oregon Department of Education. She specializes in curriculum development, instructional improvement, working with at-risk students, and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.

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