It’s February, in case you hadn’t noticed. The weather, mercifully not snowing in Boston, at least, remains bleak and gray, the skies matching the snowbanks along the streets and sidewalks. Some vast percentage of the Lower 48 has experienced extremes of weather in the past month or so, and we’re all desperately eager for spring.
These are notoriously bleak days in schools. Too many indoor recesses, too many meetings, too many papers to correct; admission committees too busy or anxiously not busy enough; strategic initiatives getting old or becoming overwhelming. The last weeks of the season, make-up games and uncertainties about playoffs. The dramas of Early Decision results are over, and the next wave of news, hopefully good but still mysterious, still five or six long weeks away. Some students are finding enough time on their hands to try out some dodgy out-of-the-box decision-making.
For me, though, it’s sort of a vicarious experience. I only work part-time in a school this year, and what’s more I’m pretty much sequestered in an out-of-the-way office. Fortunately I am within earshot of an extraordinarily creative and thoughtful department head’s desk, and for a few hours a week I get to help a student through an independent study in Latin that is becoming as well a class in what my grandfather might have known as philology; today we listened to Luke 2 in Old English and read it in Middle and Early Modern English, spotting words of Latin origin.
And I have my Twitter feed. It maybe February, but the crawl as it scrolls ever upward feels like a Springtime in Narnia moment, where the ice melts and birdsong is heard in the land.
Twitter offers me a window into life at a hundred schools and into the minds of a hundred brilliant educators. I check out Instagrams of winter carnivals and basketball teams and get to listen innovative teachers and thinkers answering queries and exchanging all kinds of ideas and observations. Classroom photos reveal a panoply of exciting practices, and excited teachers livetweet professional development experiences and ideas.
The usual daily dose of anxious news and urgent blogposts is a constant reminder that the wonderful world of schools is under threat from political and economic forces that threaten the integrity of the classroom and the fabric of universal public education in America—a weird backdrop to the creativity and excitement pouring out of individual classrooms and schools in 140-character gobbets. I mark these, and attend, but the countervailing power of the good stuff, the really interestingstuff is what makes me smile, and hope.
We are in an educational renaissance. Old ideas and ways are being falling aside, with iconoclastic and original teachers and school leaders taking little on faith and creating masterworks in curriculum and assessment—Tintorettos of technology, if you will, Donatellos of design thinking, and Van Eycks of experiential learning. (Sorry; couldn’t help myself.) It’s truly beautiful to see and read about.
If you haven’t convinced yourself to believe in Twitter, February, all by itself, is reason enough. It’s one thing to be lifted out your doldrums by some good news around your school—and there is always plenty of this, even when the snow lies heavy on the ground—but just as great to have a constant flow of interesting, compelling, sometimes provocative, always consciousness-expanding news and information passing along the side of your computer screen. And then there are the chats, hashtagged conversations that play out as surprisingly cogent and informative experiences.
Along the way, and I can vouch for this personally, you’re also quite likely to encounter some kindred spirits who will become friends. And with the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conferencecoming up, along with a spring full of conferences and workshops all over the place—not to mention a rich menu of EdCampsin every clime—there will be some great opportunities coming up to put faces with favicons and lift a cup or a glass with like-minded characters who might just help you sort out some of the vexing issues that may be besetting you, here in February. (Hey, you could even follow me @pgow, and I’m pretty likely to follow you back!)
I can’t say as I don’t miss the intensity and focus of full-time immersion in the culture, agony, and ecstasy of a single school. But if I am for the moment something of a ronin, I’ll take my pleasures where I can find them, and lately it’s been in the glowing constellation of stars that brighten my days and form my PLN on Twitter.