Message in a Bottle

Did you watch Lost? The show had a lot in common with teaching.

You find yourself thrown on an island. You feel disoriented, confused, and overwhelmed. You go into survival mode – what do I need to do to at a bare minimum to keep my heart beating and my lungs breathing?

Then you notice them. The others. They are a mysterious bunch, and they now must be included in the survival plan. You aren’t sure if they are friends or foes. Some of them are still trying to figure that out. But it becomes quickly apparent that you need to work together to survive. What do they know about survival that they can teach me? What do I know that I can teach them? You learn more about each other, and as time passes, things settle down. Life on the island begins to make more sense. You learn how to build a fire. You learn where to find food and how to build a basic shelter.  (And, unlike Lost, there are no polar bears, time travel, cryptic numbers, or button that makes the world go round.)

You survive.

And that’s the problem. Teachers spend the first year or two of teaching in “survival mode”, and unfortunately, some get stuck there. They continue to teach as though they are on an island, isolated from other teachers, working hard to do their job as best they can, reinventing the wheel every semester. It’s tiring. It’s discouraging. There’s no one to bounce ideas off, no one to borrow things from, no one to tell you you’re doing a good job, no one to share your frustrations with, no one to problem solve with. Some teachers left on the island too long become bitter, disfigured memories of a teacher who was once optimistic and eager to teach. Now they just throw coconuts at you if you try to show them a way off the island. (I think they’re resentful of all the time they spent alone, and intimidated by a world they were cut off from for so long).

Sharing with our colleagues is critical. Without sharing, we risk becoming overworked, lonely, irrelevant, bitter, or coconut-flingers. And the great thing about teaching nowadays is that you don’t have to eat lunch in the staff room and hope you find a colleague to connect with (although that’s good too). You can connect and share using Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or any number of other sites, or take part in learning experiences like #etmooc. (For anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed or uncertain of where to start, here’s a helpful infographic.)

So, with sharing in mind, here are some reflections from the “Sharing is Accountability” #etmooc session tonight:
just because I shared it doesn’t mean I’ll think like that forever.  Allow people freedom to change their mind and message.
lather before you shave. It’s an old lesson, but a good one. If you have constructive criticism to share, it sure doesn’t hurt to point out what was done well first. We do it for our students, so why wouldn’t we do it for each other?
– filter. There is a lot of information out there, and there is no shame in filtering it. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t do everything, feel guilty if you don’t do anything” – Shareski
– comment. Sharing can be a vulnerable experience, so it’s nice to know there’s someone out there. And comments can start conversations that lead to connections and more sharing.
– we are on the same team! – so stop throwing coconuts.


22 thoughts on “Message in a Bottle

  1. wilsonteacher says:

    Loved this! The Lost analogy is perfect.
    You got me thinking about survival mode. When I first started I remember feeling so overwhelmed, (hey…like ETMOOC!) and if it wasn’t for a few colleagues who were there to provide guidance, I probably would’ve left teaching.
    You offer some great reflections on sharing, and I appreciate your advice! Thanks!

  2. Mary B. says:

    Great post! Sharing is vital for us as professionals. It helps us become better teachers and helps knit us together as an educational community. As a new teacher being part of a community that shares so willingly has helped me not drown this year!

  3. Just as you were posting this, I posted a connectedness prompt to the 7 Degrees Infographic. Nice coincidence.

  4. mmebowes says:

    Great post Kate – and so incredibly relevant as we embark on this adventure of connected learning. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mary says:

    Great to read your reflection. If only our staff could all embrace the idea of being on the same page, it would make life and learning so much easier and more enjoyable. We could focus on student outcomes rather than putting out spot fires amongst the staff!

    Like you say, filtering is really important. Whenever I am reading my twitter stream, there are particular tweeters that I always read whereas others I read more sporadically, often depending on time.

    We are not always going to get it right, that is for sure. But as we tell our students repeatedly, that is often when the real learning occurs. It is great to be a part of this MOOC where we can try out ideas and refine our thinking.

    Thanks for helping to refine mine!

    • Thanks for your comments Mary! I really hope that through sharing and conversations we can start to break down some of the walls we’ve all built between each other. I don’t know why we don’t, as teachers, take some of our own advice that we give to students all the time!

  6. Kara says:

    This is so true. As a second year teacher I have often felt this “being on an island” and know how quickly you can fall into survival mode. Thankfully I have a great staff that is always open and eager to share their knowledge and help guide me through those lost moments!

    Another thing that helps tremendously is the group that I convocated with. We are never afraid to ask for or share resources (in fact I sent an entire course-worth of notes, handouts, assignments, and assessments to one of my group yesterday!) We need to encourage networking like this while we are in university and earning our degrees so that we can continue to not be afraid to share and ask for resources…..and stop flinging coconuts!!

    • Thanks for your comment Kara! I’m glad to hear you have a community built around you so early in your career. I agree that sharing needs to be fostered while we are in University, so that we at least have some resources when we enter the teaching world.

      • Kara says:

        I see that you are from Regina and, after a bit of snooping on your blog, see that it seems you know a few people I do. I did my internship with Jill Brown at Thom, I’m assuming you know her?

      • I do know her! And now I totally remember you! What a small world haha.

  7. I love your analogy to LOST! How true! You have eloquently captured my entire philosophy for teaching – sharing best practices, helping each other through the muck! I would like to share you thoughts with my staff, if I may. What do you teach?

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