Over the last few weeks, several teachers have mentioned that they feel like they are on an island. Now, just to be clear, they weren’t describing warm sun, white sand, and crystal blue water. The experience they described was much different. They were talking about being alone, separated from the majority, and isolated. As lonely as it felt sometimes, they knew that they couldn’t go back to the mainland. My first thought was to almost scream, “You’re not alone, stay passionate, continue doing the work you are doing!”
However, I was quickly reminded of a section in School Culture Recharged, an inspirational guide written by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker . So much of this book resonated with me, but their thoughts on “Islands of Effective Teachers” was something I couldn’t stop thinking about. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in school culture.
This “stranded on an island” feeling is one we hear about too often in education. Most people reading this have probably been on this island at one point or another in their educational career. These “stranded teachers” are the ones that are stepping outside of their comfort zones, breaking out of the traditional instruction they are surrounded by, and taking risks. They don’t need me to tell them to continue doing good work because they already hold themselves to this high standard. They don’t know how to teach without passion because they care deeply about the work they are doing. What they need is support. Gruenert and Whitaker’s book offers great advice for leaders on how to encourage other teachers to relocate to this island. While leaders are working toward improving the culture, how can teachers improve island life
Obviously, this isn’t new advice, but it is something that some people on the island need to hear. Even if within the walls of your school you feel isolated, there are so many passionate educators that can support you. Twitter is such a powerful way to find your tribe. A few days ago, a second-year teacher from outside of my district reached out to me, full of energy, but not sure which direction to head. Our conversation energized me! This is a perfect example of how important it is to reach out and connect with like-minded people, especially when we are stuck or lonely.
It is so easy to close the door and keep to yourself. It makes it so much easier to interact with people on “the mainland” because they don’t know that you are doing something different then they are. However, even though nobody is telling you, you are igniting a spark in someone when you share. If you aren’t comfortable sharing, allow your students to share! Giving them a voice is powerful for them and it is a great way for other teachers to get a glimpse of “island life.”
Find a travel partner!
There are people who want to try new things and break away from tradition, but they may be afraid to say anything. Change is scary. Find someone else in your district that is trying something new. It doesn’t have to be someone on your grade level or that even teaches the same content area as you. Chances are, this person will welcome you with open arms. Passionate educators love to share ideas and this is a great way to bring more people to the island. If someone approaches you about what is going on in your room, share but don’t overwhelm them. Offer up one idea or even to partner your classes up for an activity.