“Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still, let this be our song, no one stands alone, standing side by side, draw the circle wide.” Song lyrics by Gordon Light.
Watching students try to arrange themselves in a circle is a surprisingly complex task. The first students quickly get their chairs in order, sit down, and eventually a pseudo-circle-shape starts to form.
Right away there’s a problem. The circle is too small and a bunch of kids still need to get their chairs in there. So what happens now?
The quickest way would be for everyone to pull their chairs back, slide them together to create space, and put those extra chairs in. But what happens is more of a social shuffling…who am I going to put my chair beside? What?? They aren’t making room! And the place there is a space, isn’t beside one of my friends. Now what?
Eventually all the chairs get in a circle and everyone is seated, but it struck me that this is a metaphor for how we operate in our lives too. Why is it so hard to draw the circle wide? To draw it wider still??
I’ll be the first to admit that I keep my circles pretty small. I don’t let people into my life very easily, but those that I do are stalwart. They are important. They are special. They are keepers.
But even online, where you don’t really need to physically or emotionally manage your sheer numbers of friends, I keep my facebook small and curate my posts. Why? Maybe it’s the old-school belief of not needing to share the (often boring) details of my life with every person I know, but I think it also comes down the ideas of trust and support. We need our online groups, just like our real-life ones, to be people and places that we know have got our back.
(Then there’s Twitter, but that’s another story lol.)
In our workplaces, we have different professional circles too. Several years ago, the PLC or professional learning community movement was very strong. I was in a PLC with two colleagues who would become some of my absolute favorite people in the world. We freely shared ideas and resources to make our courses stronger and more learner-centered. At the time, it was a new and exciting venture buoyed by mutual respect and collaboration. Best PD ever.
Where the PLC ran into difficulties in a rural area, was in specific areas like Home Ec or Band where you might be the only teacher of that subject in your school. So the circle was drawn wider, and the PLC concept transferred from the school level to the division one. For a time being, it was successful and I made a few new connections and added to my professional learning circle, but the meetings didn’t have the frequency to sustain momentum, and the PD model shifted again.
More recently, with the explosion of online PLNs or professional learning networks, our circles have moved much farther away from home. They have given me the chance to connect with, and learn from, educators all over the world; plus I am finding lots of local PSSD teachers that I have never met before and am learning from their posts as well. For the most part, I am still a consumer of their knowledge and experiences, not really a contributor. It’s like I’m there with my chair on the outside of the circle, just not sure where to put it down yet. I really believe in the power of PLNs…the more time I spend there, the more I am learning, and the more I can bring to my students each day. But it still just translates into my own small circle…my classroom.
How do I take these circles, like some convoluted Venn diagram, and make meaningful change that benefits all students in our school?
Some of you maybe familiar with Simon Sinek, or his book “Leaders Eat Last.” He has soooo many ideas about leadership and collaboration including this one:
A team is not a group of people who work together.
A team is a group of people who trust each other.
So one more acronym! For me, the all-encompassing circle is the PSN, your personal support network. To some extent, it includes my online PLN, but those people don’t know me, and aside from a click of a mouse, are only virtual support. No, these are the people up and down the hallway, and in the main office. They are colleagues with doors open, letting you pop in and out to observe, give feedback, and seek each other out with questions and ideas. These are people with their own PLN, active online, and sharing ideas from there or what they have seen in other classrooms. These are the ones you bump into at the photocopier and get that much-needed pep talk on a tough day. These are the people who come out to support our students, but also their colleagues, in activities and community events.
They are also the people who took time out of their busy prep day on Friday, to play in the gym together over noon hour…building our peer relationships with laughter, but more so building trust.
It is starting to feel different. We are slowly moving beyond the point where we don’t just work in isolation together. We have developed a shared vision of what is best for our learners. We listen. We set visible goals. We support each other and trust each other. We are viewing our work through a community lens. We are becoming a team. It didn’t happen overnight and it isn’t perfect, but the circle is being drawn wide…now to draw it wider still…no one stands alone…standing side by side…drawing the circle wide.
Everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
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