How to Battle the Dementor of Isolation
This is part three in a series about the Teacher Leader Dementors, those lurking creatures who can suck the happiness right out of great passionate work. You can read part one on the Guilt Dementor here and part two on the "Yes" Dementor here. Part 4 on the Rabble-Rouser Dementor is coming later this week...
Remember the Celine Dion song in the 1990's called "All By Myself?" At the climax of the song, this fabulous little Canadian songbird belts out in all of her vocal splendor "I don't want to be by myself-by myself anymore!"
Ever felt that way as a teacher?
This song has become the soundtrack to many video clips showing those in deep sorrow or isolation (to get the full visual, see this Wendy's commercial). A few times in my life, it has been my personal soundtrack as well—an auditory version of how I was feeling inside as a teacher. Once, it might have actually been the song I played on my iPhone, under my desk in my classroom at Shaw Elementary School, as I cried little sorrowful tears onto my lesson plan book. But that, I can neither confirm nor deny.
Have you been there? Have you seen him, this ugly Dementor?
Insert the Isolation Dementor.
This Dementor swirls around the heads of most teachers, especially since classroom life can be a solitary one. But this Death Eater has one favorite group of victims...teacher leaders.
Teacher leaders are isolated prey in their nature (for now). Teacher leaders should move in packs to avoid this Dementor, but the structures of the school day, geography, and existing education systems don't necessarily cater to this type of pack behavior. So the Dementor lurks.
When I was a teacherpreneur for the Center for Teaching Quality in 2011-2012, I had a 50/50 job split in my day. I taught fifth grade half of the day, and I worked on cultivating teacher leadership in others for the other half. And it was isolating. I felt alone. One reason was that no one really knew what I was doing when I wasn't teaching. There was no other "me" for miles. I was feeling alone, and the Dementor could smell my solitude. Cue Celine Dion...
Ironically, I know I am not alone.
I'm in another position now, as a teacher leader implementing her teacher leader skills to create more teacher leaders. The same situation applies-the Dementor lurks. I work in solitude on my new campus. But I have more experience now against this Isolation Dementor...I can sense him coming. I know his power. And I know what to do to prevent him from negatively impacting my work.
Here's a few of my tips and tricks for battling this Dementor.
- Find your tribe. Technology is your best weapon. There is virtually (pun intended) no reason to be alone in anything we do anymore. If you are interested in teacher-created assessments but aren't feeling a lot of momentum with your colleagues inside your building, look outside those walls. With videoconference technology, we can discuss best pedagogical strategies from a book study with teachers two states away, engage in a virtual PLC with a teacher team across the district or across the state, or coach our peers from across the school building. With technology, we can bust out of our silos and zap the Isolation Dementor. And an extra knowledge bomb: We are much more powerful as teachers and teacher leaders when we collaborate. There is so much potential in our combined efforts.
- Build your tribe. Can't find a group who is already working on your topic of interest? Then create one! Just like the old addage: If you can't find the book that you want to read, then write it. Think about how to bring others along in your idea. Reach out to your networks and the networks of your colleagues. Cast a wide net on social media—Twitter, Facebook. I can almost guarantee that if you build it, they will come. Great ideas bring together the like-minded.
- Bring others into your work. Looking back, I know one thing I did not do well was bring others in my school building into the work I was doing outside of my building. I wasn't transparent about what I was working on, and I didn't work hard enough to bring in my peers. Or utilize on their strengths as teachers and teacher leaders. Part of the reason this didn't happen was fear of sticking out (tall poppy syndrome), but part of it was just thinking that I didn't have enough time. I needed to realize that it was important to carve out time to bring others on board—it should have been at the top of my to-do list. So think about how you can bring your building colleagues into the fold and you might be surprised who is interested to hop on board.
- Try Meetups! I am intrigued and somewhat addicted to checking local Meetups. These are all-calls for people to meet who have similar interests, with the topics ranging from Step-Parenting Support to Beer and Yoga Fanatics to Newfoundland Pony People (yes, these are actual examples). If you are feeling isolated and looking for a tribe, what about creating a Meetup? Leaders who love to blog, teachers who love wine and math curriculum development...the sky is the limit!
So if you are bitten by the isolation bug, fight that big, bad Dementor by connecting with colleagues. Collaboration is the answer. No matter which pathway you choose to connect, it's the sure cure.
What other tricks and tips do you have to beat the Isolation Dementor? What works for you? Let's share the ideas and learn from each other.
Photos courtesy of Camilla and Juan Antonia Segal.