I went skiing last weekend with my 72-year-old father. He taught himself to ski when he was in his 40’s, and he still takes on the black diamond runs in northern Michigan. I am at the other end of the spectrum. I had attempted the beginner hills at several flat runs but definitely wouldn’t call what I did skiing. So when dad invited me to hit the slopes, my first reaction was a mix of fear and excitement. I had just finished watching the world-class athletes in the winter Olympics and although I am very afraid of falling, I knew I had an opportunity to learn a new form of exercise. So I accepted his invitation!
We arrived at the slopes early and gathered our gear before heading up the lift for my first try down the beginner hill. Dad patiently demonstrated while explaining how to get on the lift; he even alerted the lift operator that I was a beginner so that he could slow down the chair as I hopped on. I forced myself to trust dad’s directions, imitate him, and up the hill we went.
My first time getting off the lift and “skiing” down the hill was a disaster. I fell hard twice and was grateful I had listened to my husband when renting my equipment, including a sturdy helmet. At that moment, I really wanted to return my rentals, get into the car, and head back to the hotel. But, with dad’s encouragement, I got on the lift again and managed to get off the chair and down the hill without more than a stumble or two. Dad continued to patiently give me immediate feedback about what I did correctly and tips to improve my technique. Each time up and down felt more comfortable until I was ready to leave the beginner hill.
From that moment, the process was repeated over and over during the weekend. Dad encouraged me to ski on hills that I was barely able to manage, demonstrated how to successfully navigate the new turns and slopes, and patiently coached me as I learned to get up by myself. By the end of the second day of skiing, I could comfortably ride the lift, get off the chair without falling, and use my edges to “snake” down what felt like a steep hill. I was a skier and I couldn’t wait until my next skiing opportunity!
On one of my final rides up the hill, I was relaxed enough to reflect on the fun. It became clear that the weekend skiing experience was much like an effective school. Students and teachers come to new learning with anticipation but also with some angst. Unsure and anxious when they are tasked with learning a new skill, even if they are motivated. But with a support system in place and an opportunity to practice together, it isn’t long before fear can be replaced with confidence and confidence triggers success. The success that looks like two learners sharing ideas to solve a complex task. When two colleagues reflect on formative assessment data to regroup their students. When a teacher reflects with her instructional coach and decides on a new plan. When an academic team creates a successful behavior plan for a struggling student. Model. Practice. Learn. Perform. Model. Practice. Learn. Perform.
Fast forward 10 months….It’s been a long time since I went skiing. In fact, I haven’t gotten back to the slopes since the fun trip with my dad. The good news is that I am scheduled to go skiing with our school’s ski club next week! I am confident I will be rusty. I will undoubtedly have to relearn some things. I will fall and need persistence. I surely will not be able to immediately pick up with the fun I experienced last March. It’s like that when we don’t practice….
Skiing isn’t the only skill that takes practice and a “stick to it” attitude. Learning anything new is like that, including professional learning for teachers. We’ve all attended a great teaching and learning conference. One that we leave super excited about! Even though we can’t wait to get back to school and try some of the ideas we heard, we get focused on our students’ needs and our daily responsibilities. And, before we know it, the end of the year is upon us and we haven’t implemented one idea from that conference. Don’t get me wrong, out of district conferences can be career changing, but without embedding the ideas day-to-day, new learning can be squandered.
Our district’s most important weekend conference is just a few weeks away. I am super excited to attend. I am confident I will learn many strategies that will support me as a reader and writer and as a leader of readers and writers. Experts will be patient with me as I learn and ask questions. They will model their skills. They will encourage me. My challenge- and yours too- will be to take what we learned and use it in our daily work. Play with the ideas. Fail. Try again. Have fun! But most importantly, practice. Talk to your colleagues about an intriguing idea. Share your biggest “AH-HA” with your administrator. Do a book talk about one of the keynote speakers’ works. Mark your calendar to discuss one idea a week with your PLC. Write a blog post. Whatever you do, commit to it.
Get on your learning edges and ski down a mountain! Don’t let learning become a weekend trip!