It was an unexpected trip; a handful of us, three site administrators, got together after work and decided to get outside to enjoy the sunny summer afternoon. One, the most seasoned veteran in our group and an avid angler, coaxed the other two of us out to the lake with promises of bass and adventure. I’m glad he did.
As we baited our hooks with mealworms, cast out into the water, and watched our red and white bobbers float on the surface of the lake, we talked.
Certainly talk ranged to fishing, youth, and sepia tinted summer afternoons of years past. It also took a decidedly professional turn, and before we’d pulled our first leviathan from the water, we’d bounced ideas off each other about how we could improve the work we did with kids, teachers, and colleagues at each of our schools.
We talked about building professional relationships, treating others with respect, and creating legacies that we could be proud of. We shared what went well over the past school year, what we struggled with, and what we already knew we’d do differently in the fall. Honesty and ease filled the afternoon, and as we caught and released we did something else, we really connected.
Finding people we can talk with is vital to succeeding in public education, where so much of our work runs the risk of being pushed into a vacuum by the bustle of days. Taking time to talk can feel like a luxury, and even though those connections are renewing, it takes effort to make them happen. It’s like that fishing pole leaning up against the wall of the front closet that we walk past every day, potential ignored by the hectic pace of life.
Teachers can feel this when they’re adrift on the solitary boats that are their classrooms; site administrators feel it too, the events to be covered and opportunities to help so many that time can get away, and we look up to find ourselves alone on the shore at the end of the day.
Our veteran host, who caught far, far more fish than either of the other of us, helped put things in perspective. “I try to do this every week,” he said, flicking his line into the water. “After a busy day it helps put things right.”
Today’s excursion helped put things right for me too. Honest talk about the important work that we do, shared in the company of friends, not only helped me feel good about the year I’m just finishing, but also got me reflecting on what more I can do to improve.
My time at the lake reminded me of the joy of youth that is fishing on a sunny afternoon. It also reinforced the age old lesson of patience; much of fishing is waiting, and the thrill of feeling a fish strike the line, knowing a productive struggle will follow, and that at the end, if all goes well, the result will be looking you in the eye, is worth the time spent standing on the shore.
Truth be told, that standing, that waiting, that feeling the wind on your face and watching the sun on the water, is just as important a part of the experience as catching a fish.
Like working at a school, the periods of excitement are complemented by the quieter times, and best when we put a priority on connecting throughout both, celebrating successes, and helping each other when it feels like we’ll never catch a thing. We will, if we’re patient, and we’ll come out of the experience closer, if we allow ourselves to relax, reflect, and be there for each other as we go about what we do.
Professional development often takes place in offices and meeting rooms, official, even if it’s interesting. Sometimes it happens online, PLNs built and nourished through Twitter or other digital platforms. Today, for me, it took place outside, looking out over blue water, laughing, and hoping for a bite.