Saturday, March 21, 2015

Reflection from MACUL 2015 - Sustainable Health

I was blessed to attend MACUL 2015 this year (March 18-20 @ Cobo Center, Detroit, MI). This conference affords one of those rare but important opportunities to step outside of the day-to-day environment and be inspired, connect with others, and catch a vision. I am very thankful to my organization for allowing me to go and empowering me with the opportunity to learn, share, and connect with other excellent #miched folks.

How often are we affording ourselves this important opportunity of reflection, inspiration, and connecting in helpful ways? For many of my colleagues, supervisors, and myself, I find that we are constantly in "go mode". It's practically always the on season (including in summer), and taking the time for careful reflection, inspiration, networking, and practical implementation of new teaching strategies can be an elusive quest. I have experienced various changing seasons of teaching, projects, and priorities in the last 3 years, and at the present time we're gearing up for a season that may be the most intense ever. While I look ahead with anticipation to new adventures and lessons to be learned, I am reminded of the importance of being healthy. To be clear, by "healthy" I am referring to having a positive and energized outlook on life as a whole as well as working with students and colleagues. I guess I'm referring to a mental/emotional health, though the physical is definitely connected as well.

I am thinking a lot about what quality onboarding and mentoring of new instructors looks like (having trained several instructors over the past year and looking at implementing a more formal program of training and support in the next few months), and one thing I'm reminded of is how much we "catch" through modeling. For instance, many of the ways I've learned to communicate were first modeled to me by my supervisor and department chair. Many of these principles weren't necessarily explicitly taught but rather "caught". I constantly observe the same principle with my four children at home. Who I am is often much more important than the things I say/teach, as they will replicate the same attitudes and lifestyle that I actually live, apart from anything I say.

All of this is making me think that one of our priorities needs to be a lifestyle of health, encouragement, and inspiration. While there are always many needs and priorities shouting, "Tend to me! I am important! I need attention now!", the fact of the matter is that if we are not creating a teaching/learning environment for our instructors that is sustainable, they will not be teaching with us five years (or perhaps even one year!) from now. And, of course, we as teachers model for our students a certain lifestyle, and we need to be asking, as George Couros wisely stated in his keynote, "Would I want to sit through my class for six hours?". In other words, would I want to be under my own teaching/modeling/coaching? Do I exhibit an attitude and lifestyle worth replicating in others under my influence?

True, there will always be urgent priorities and we indeed need to step up to the daily challenge to address these. But there is a difference between a measured, wise, and deliberate approach to the issues at hand and a harried, unprepared, or rash approach. And sometimes we don't have the option to respond with as much reflection and preparation as we would like. But if we are constantly in a crisis mode, we will not truly make consistent growth happen in important areas (kind of like what I mentioned in my last blog post).

So, the main thoughts (apart from specific tools and strategies gleaned from MACUL this year) are the following:

Healthy mentors reproduce healthy mentees. The contrapositive is also true: Unhealthy mentors reproduce unhealthy mentees. We need to each model what we want to see in others. While there will always be urgent needs, sometimes those "needs" need to take a back seat to priorities that are higher up in the hierarchy of values that promote a sustainable, energizing, and joyful instructional force. I will be looking to promote ways to carefully think of the long-term needs as we approach a season of increased intensity for our teaching team.