Sunday, April 26, 2015

Real Professional Conversations

I'll admit I was not too keen to get up on a Saturday morning in April at my usual "work hour," but I did hoist myself out of bed to meet with five other colleagues of the Shenandoah Valley Writing Project at 9 a.m.  Our meeting place was about a 50 minute drive from home.

Why would anyone do that?

Ah.  The morning was such a respite from the usual meetings and grind that it truly has "restoreth my soul."

Rappahannock Cellars in Hume, Virginia generously provided a quiet back room for writing and sharing.  Though we were only there for two hours, my notebook spilleth over with ideas, books to read, and inspiration for much, much more. The morning quelled a raging spirit, and the feeling of peace lasted throughout the following work week. We are in challenging times as spring quickens student restlessness and teachers struggle to maintain attention as we head full force into the 'testing season.'

The morning was everything my usual 'professional learning communities' at work generally are not.

First, the setting of the winery is gorgeous.  Just on the east side of the Blue Ridge, the winery is built with long windows facing the mountainside to the west, now sporting the tender green color of new life, weak blossoms, and that hazy, yellow-green tinge of new buds.  It is a true retreat from the usual institutional setting.

We met in a large, light filled room.  This beautiful space communicates warmth and the sense that the occupants matter. It holds areas for small groupings, tables and chairs spaced widely, large windows, a fireplace, and outdoor seating on a deck.  Lovely.

The conversations ran the gamut, first catching up with each other--both work lives and personal--ranging from the frustrating to the uplifting.

Our only agenda: get a prompt for writing if you need one, write in silence for 40 minutes, rejoin the group and share.  After both gripping and celebrating, we went to our corners and wrote, generating the kind of electric hum possible only when all minds in a room are ruminating at once.  We returned to a cluster of sofas by the fireplace to share.

I learned more in these two hours than I had the entire semester.  Our writing led to our classrooms, our classrooms led to ideas and strategies, our ideas led to books we had read, our conversations led to further growth and plans for the future.  Though it is easy to find like minded professionals in twitter chats and online blogs, face-to-face dynamic interactions take on a life of their own that cannot be re-created in the digiverse.

The outlines of professional conversations are simple, really.  Just provide a minor stimulation along with the time and space for reflection.

Grown ups do know how to control their own work.  Some will even escape their workplace to expand and refine what they do.  I continue to be grateful to other teachers who help me find both joy and peace in the midst of the storm we generally abide in.