The Spirit of Our Profession

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day (May 7), here are some thoughts from Anne DiPardo. This blog was originally posted to the Exchange on Oct 10, 2012.

My friend Doris was afire with intellectual hunger right up until her recent death at age 98. Spinal stenosis had taken her posture, macular degeneration her ability to read, chemo her hair—and her hearing was so compromised that at the nonfiction book circle I led at her assisted living facility, we’d sit side by side and I’d use my big teacher voice. She’d lean in as I fairly shouted out the words, nodding my way from time to time. “I never knew all this,” she’d exclaim with a clap as we closed for the day, “and it’s just so interesting.” And questions, always questions, the restless desire to wonder and learn. Doris wasn’t biding her time waiting to die, but working through fresh information and juicy questions with the intensity of an elite athlete.

I think of Doris a lot in my work as a teacher educator. As the school year begins and I meet a new flock of young people embarking on this big adventure, I want them to know that fostering lifelong learning must be our prime goal for us as well as our students. These future colleagues are alive with promise, in love with our field, and deeply committed to enhancing the lives of their own students. But I find that they’re increasingly anxious, too. In candid moments, they worry aloud that they’ll be expected to adhere to meaningless procedures and scripts, that sharing uncertainty will damage their credibility. They want to be teachers because they’re luminous as learners, and in their own collaborative inquiry groups, ideas fire and grow. How to convince them that this is the spirit of our profession at its best, that it’s in this dynamic process--not the staid clutching of rules, templates, and checklists—that we compel students to step up? That given the inevitable complexities and uncertainties surrounding teaching and learning, this spirit is not just nice but essential?

I want to tell them that the wonderful teachers I’ve known over the years are a lot like Doris in loving the questions, loving learning and growing, and depending upon one another for supportive and thought-provoking conversation. I quote Lytle and Cochran-Smith’s wonderful phrase “teaching as inquiry stance.” I admit that while there’s lots to be learned from methods courses, the real work is all about ambiguities and impromptu problem-solving, and that no one gets it right all the time. I tell them that they’ll know what I mean as they have opportunities to watch teacher learning communities in action and understand that where we come together as learners, wonderful things can happen for us and for our students. They hope I’m right, but they privately wonder: will they really have space to be anything other than steely sure-answer people?

For all these reasons and more, I’m profoundly grateful for the plans taking shape around NCLE. This fall, my students will explore the questions and challenges teachers are pondering here on the Learning Exchange, contemplate the fruits of collaborative inquiry through “Portraits of Change,” and seek the wisdom of more senior colleagues as they begin to formulate their own quandaries.  

Here, they’ll witness our profession grappling with tough questions and enter into conversation with study groups working to foster enhanced cross-subject, school-level support for diverse learners.  

Here, they’ll meet an intellectually generous profession comprised of people who, like my late friend Doris, are vitally alive and always growing because they’re always wondering. Making room for questions may feel daring, even counter-cultural in some quarters, but nothing remains more central to our professional growth, well-being, and capacity for serving students in powerful ways.  

Have you had colleagues who've inspired you with their willingness to keep on questioning and learning? We'd welcome your stories via the Comments box below.

For more examples of educators who are grappling with the questions, just look around on the Exchange website. Among the many voices you'll find are these:

Liane Ramirez describes how working within a community of practice helped her realize "we're all learners."

Linda T. Parsons describes a close-knit community of inquiry she developed with a group of avid fourth-grade readers.

In this podcast, Cathy Fleischer, the facilitator of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project's Teacher Research Group, describes the process group members use to collaborate around their individual questions.

An administrator from an inquiry group in Rowland Unified School District in Rowland, California, reflects on the group's conversations and some of the questions they asked to help them learn differently.

In this podcast, Anne DiPardo interviews a team of educators from Skyline High School in Longmont, Colorado, about why they find it important to participate in collaborative inquiry around their professional practice.

Most Recent: October 17, 2012
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  • Rex Babiera

    Lifelong learners

    I love the spirit that says if we want our students to be lifelong learners, then we ourselves have to be lifelong learners. Thanks, Anne.