This week the celebration is bittersweet. And thank you to Ruth Ayers, for your lovely blog that reminds me about the importance of celebrating.
The seven of us sat around on the deck, taking in the view. The wind whipped our hair, and we chatted easily. We ate, and laughed, and we raised our glasses to Michelle, and to each other. We were a little sad that it was coming to a close. But our sadness was tempered by our awareness that what we had been through together changed us as teachers and as people.
Michelle has been our guide through the past two years of a professional development journey provided to us by Cotsen. The Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching is an amazing program that has been the only exception that I have ever found to the rule my dad taught me: You don’t get something for nothing. In this case, you kind of do. No strings, no expectations to give back, or “gotchas”– nothing to prove or pay. But here is what we received:
1. Monthly inquiry meetings, with food, fellowship and an extended period of time in which we discussed and studied a subject of our choice.
2. Two to three Saturday conferences a year. We were taught by leaders and authors in our field, including Kathy Collins, Jennifer Serravallo, Ralph Fletcher, Smokey Daniels, Stephanie Harvey… and many, many more. We paid nothing, just showed up.
3. $1,000.00 per year, for two years, to spend as we like on professional development opportunities and books.
4. Five sub-days so we could head on out and see other teachers in action and attend weekday professional development opps. (Unfortunately, LAUSD didn’t allow us to use most of these– that would be the subject of a very different post– but still, they were offered to us)
5. A mentor (a fellow teacher at our school whose salary is paid by Cotsen so they can step out of the classroom and mentor seven teachers for two years). The mentor is a co-learner and a fellow traveler. Michelle spent time in my classroom, and we met regularly to discuss how my self-chosen area of focus was developing. She offered me feedback when I asked for it, ideas for further study, and was an amazing partner as we talked about the professional books we read together.
What’s not to love? The gratitude I feel for this opportunity is immense. I focused on reading instruction through small groups. I also learned a lot about fostering independence among my students, and the significance of the narrative children develop about themselves. My biggest take-away was this: Shut my mouth. Listen more, nudge more, smile more, let them be who they are. And then, armed with all of the information I gathered by listening and not talking, observing and not orchestrating, then move in and teach.
As we sat around yesterday afternoon, I think we were all filled with gratitude for each other too. The discussions we had during inquiries will stay with me forever. To be surrounded by professional, thoughtful, diverse, and insightful colleagues– it doesn’t get much better than that. And while I am sad it is officially over (although you are always a Cotsen fellow and get to attend Saturday conferences and other professional development opportunities forever), I am certain that we will continue to support each other. Onward. Thankful. Inspired.