When Learning Hurts

Educators are asking each other the following questions: “How has this year and this learning journey been for you? What has been the most important thing you have done this year? What’s the best thing you’ve done this year?” I struggle to put it in words, to be authentic and to even share the real truth. Do I want people to know? And why? I want to write something truly noble and glowing about the wonder of the year and my own profound, wise and deep reflection on the experience. Alas, I am recovering from the onslaught. I am walking, running, lifting weights, and turning pages in books but not really reading them. And I am generally burying myself into my family and time alone. What makes it so difficult is I have no inspiration to give—me, in my position, have struggled in the learning curve.

I will say right up front that this year was too difficult for me. I found it painful and intense. How’s that for honesty? I had so much to learn at times it was way too overwhelming. I had too many responsibilities to juggle and didn’t feel I could do anything well. My goal has always been to exceed expectations and to make a difference in the work that I do. On top of that my actual personal mission statement, “joyfully obeying the call” didn’t seem to be anchoring my world. I was losing most of the joy in the intensity of the workload and spent many days struggling to be grateful. I had a difficult time navigating all the relationships and since I wear my heart on my sleeve I would often feel personally hurt over matters that should not have seemed so significant. I have worked hard as a teacher, vice-principal and principal but never as hard as I have this past year to survive being a Director of Instruction.  In some respects, it is but an act of grace that I have made it through the year.

Now we need to place that previous paragraph in its proper context. I do love my job. I love being in a position to encourage innovation, system change and organizational learning. This is the best part of my learning journey. I work with a team of fabulous helping teachers that are committed to supporting teachers in their learning and making significant change happen. These teachers are amazing. I have learned so much from them. They guide me in the work I do. They are the experts. Our work is driven by the need to make a difference with students. We do this by ensuring the work is school-based, teacher driven and teacher-led. I believe that deep changes to our education system will come from the professionals in the field.  And I do believe we are at a critical junction where both structural and pedagogical changes are needed. My job is to support that work. I am passionate about it.

So what is the most important thing I have done this year? Learning. Learning for myself and for others. I love learning and I love inspiring learning in others. I love creating opportunities for teachers, and administrators, to innovate, play, learn, explore and improve their practice. When teachers fall in love with learning, it spreads to their students. I am most excited when schools, administrators and teachers push the boundaries of “traditional schooling” and begin to explore ways to make learning more engaging for students. This is happening in our district. For me, when I hear from the field, of the work being done, that is deeply gratifying. So this is the paradox of what has also made my learning journey so difficult this past year. It is an antinomy of sorts.  I stand stretched and sometimes yanked between it.

And then what are the best things I have done? I realize these are things I have actually personally not “done.” They are initiatives that I have helped support. Others have done the real work. They deserve the credit.  Here are a few that come to mind:

• I am very excited about the early numeracy aboriginal project. This is a field study and we have not blogged about it yet. I think it is potentially ground breaking and “the first of its kind” work.

• Working strategically with IMS to get wireless across the district & hardware into hands of teachers & students was the game changer for teachers and learners. We hear that everywhere we go.

• The Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series was a significant catalyst for learning across the district. It sparked the beginning of publicly introducing twitter to educators and promoting the use of our hashtag (#sd36learn) as a way to promote best practice. The purposeful use of that hashtag has exploded.

• The Innovative Learning Designs project has breathed new life into the practice of many educators. More than one educator declared this was the most personally exciting year of the past twenty+ they have spent in the profession.

• I could talk about the SS11 e-text project as a turning point—a project that is truly more about shifting pedagogy than e-texts.

• And I could say a great deal about Teacher-Librarians as well. I do believe they have a strategic role to play in the future—if they choose.

These are points of hope for transformation in teaching and education. “When will what we know change what we do?” challenges Mike McKay, our district Superintendent. I see these as significant leverage points in that journey to action. So the best things I have done are reflected in the work of others. And what makes them the best is that they truly are moving practice forward.

As much as my learning this past year was intense, overwhelming, and difficult, it was equally exhilarating. I aspire to be a linchpin in the organization: finding new answers, new connections and new ways of getting things done. I like to dream big and make it happen. There is significant work to be done in education. I do feel like we are at a critical junction. It is my dream to help create the leverage points that will tip the whole district, the whole system, to create learning communities for students that are authentic, personal, real and connected to the wider global community. We are the experts. We can move the system to effectively meet the needs of learners. Many of you reading this post are already doing that. Others are poised to tip. I know that; I have heard your stories. What I ask, moving forward, is: Will you be a linchpin too?

Thanks to everyone’s support this past year and for your ongoing commitment to your own learning and that of your students.  May peace, hope, love and joy befriend you on your summer holiday! 

5 responses to “When Learning Hurts

  1. Thanks for your honesty, Elisa. It is good to hear what you struggle with as your strengths are numerous and I have appreciated your efforts to support myself in making learning better in my classroom. I am ready to be a linchpin with you. Thanks for embarking on this path and your faith in pushing forward!
    Lora Sarchet

  2. Elisa,

    As a fellow heart-on-sleeve-wearer, I can relate to your post. It is difficult to try to do our best when others may not agree or when challenging times arise. We often put so much into our work, it is easy to feel personally hurt sometimes (even if others may think this is unwarranted). We are allowed to feel the way we feel though. It is times like those where you just want to throw in the towel. It’s just too hard sometimes.

    That is what makes our work powerful though – the difficult times are VERY difficult, but, the positive times keep us energized and excited to keep going. Hopefully, these difficult times are far out-weighed with more positive times (like all the projects you were a part of this year).

    I appreciate all you’ve done this year to start the conversation, start lighting the fires around the district. I really has been an amazing year, full of growth and inspiration.

    I hope the much-deserved break with your family (although, I do know that that isn’t much of a “break”) helps to re-energize you for the coming year.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Elisa. I look forward to our continued work together.


  3. Thank you Elisa, for this reflection. As I was reading about your personal journey through this year, so much of it rang true for me.

    In twenty two years of teaching I have never felt quite as overwhelmed as this past year. What I have come to learn and understand is that this feeling is a good one, actually a great one. It means I am learning, changing, growing and questioning what I do in the classroom each day.

    There have been many times this year that the information has come too quickly I and feel that I have been expected to learn too much but through my connections, and my growing PLC on twitter I feel so much more supported.

    Thank you for all you have done to support those of us still grinding it out in the classrooms, those who are trying to implement change in our practise with all the twists, turns and hurdles along the way. My PLCs have grown this year due to the support we have been given from you at the district level. I have enjoyed our short talks and sharing of student learning – the students felt valued by you when you came to chat with them, they felt their learning was valued.

    I cannot wait to see where this journey takes all of us.

  4. Elisa,
    I wrote something recently, a letter, which I can not share yet… It’s for a conference I’m going to, and I wrote it for people like you! Remind me to share it with you to start the school year:)

    Thanks for sharing this. I want you to know that as a neighbour in a nearby district, (which has been doing wonderful things), I have looked over at the growth of the digital network in Surrey in awe! I’m so glad that you gave context to your first paragraph and shared some of the significant changes over the last year… There are so many people doing amazing things!

    You said, “There is significant work to be done in education. I do feel like we are at a critical junction.” – I too believe this, and I think we have seen a level of ‘buy-in’ that has the potential to shift us from incremental to exponential changes… We now have the job of keeping those changes on track… Overwhelming if we don’t harness the very networks we are trying to build.
    Have an amazing summer,

    • innovativelearningdesigns

      Thank you for your comments.
      I will look forward to reading the letter when you are ready to share.
      My learning curve has been steep so I will take all the help I can get!

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