Part of a Wagon Train

Ever since I wrote my last post about the endless horizon for educators and the constant need for us to be moving forward with our own learning and thinking, I have had this image from my childhood of a wagon train moving across the Great Plains.  I was allowed to watch a half hour of television a day, and I always chose the Westerns. I would sit in front of our black and white television and imagine the world of the Wild West. So, for this blog post, my apologies to the historians! This is not based on the actual history of the period, but simply the world of a child’s imagination, that turned black and white into color.

The journey on a wagon train was one of adventure. A group of people made a radical decision to leave behind the world that they knew and head into the unknown together, hoping for a better life. While they might not have known each other well when the journey started, they were forced to work together and support each other in order to survive the challenges with which they were confronted.

As teachers, many of us are on a similar journey. This is so much the way that I feel about my life as a teacher now. Together with other passionate educators, we are moving away from what is know and taking on whatever challenges appear in our path. We don’t know where the journey will end, or even if there is an end at all. We only know that we want to move forward, away from a place of established answers and towards what we hope will be better.

We have packed our wagons with the best of what we know, our best practices for reaching our students and for connecting with other passionate educators. We have evaluated what we must take with us and what we can leave behind. The ideas and strategies that once seemed so significant that we now know we can live without. Letting go of some of them is hard and we often look back and reconsider. What is the role of memorization in the classroom? Should I still teach reading the way I did before? Is this skill necessary or not? Luckily for us, we do not actually leave it all behind. If we need to reach back, we can grab our old lessons and apply it to future needs.

The idea is important, however, because we need to open up space in our thinking, so that we will investigate and take on new ways of working with our students. If we try to carry all that we have into the future, we will be trapped under the burden of doing it All! There simply are not enough hours in a day to teach the way we did before and the way we might when we grow and learn more. Something must be left behind.

Thankfully, there are scouts who travel with this wagon train, people who are already taking the risks and reporting on their successes and their failures. They are showing us the paths to take and the ones to avoid. We need to make sure that we connected with people who are taking chances and who are pushing their own thinking. Who are you listening to? From whom are you learning? Have you built a challenging PLN that is forcing you to move or are you sitting comfortably where you were last year and the year before? When you look at your Twitter feed, are you reading articles that make you think or simply nod in agreement? If we are going to grow, we must find the people who open our eyes to new ways of thinking. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to be listening and assessing.

We also must make sure that we serve as scouts for the teachers around us. We can’t be part of the wagon train of old that left the East and never returned. We have to continually combine moving forward ourselves with encouraging the next group join the movement. It can not be about some elite, exclusive group who makes it to some Promised Land, leaving the less fortunate behind. For the sake of the children, we must help each and every teacher to learn and grow. It is our imperative! When we discover a new way of supporting our students or a new means of connecting with other educators, it is our duty to share it. We need to point to an easier path or a more fruitful valley. We can no longer exist in isolation; we must walk together. In this wagon train, there are many scouts for each stage of the journey. We must find the ones who will lead us and challenge us to move forward, and we must in turn share what we knew to guide others forward as well. We must ask ourselves if we are moving forward and if we have invited others along on our journey or are we heading out alone?

That is how we will build a community that travels together and survives the hurdles that we constantly have before us. We must surround ourselves with people who will help clear away the branches or ford the streams. Life, especially one that is spent pushing the boundaries and moving into the unknown, is never going to be a straight and clear highway. It is one that we must travel together!

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