From Breakfast to Breakthrough

What started out as an innocent invitation to a breakfast meeting has now turned into the most profound professional learning experience of my career.breakfast

In the fall, I was invited to a breakfast meeting with three other colleagues, with whom I had had the pleasure of working with through our community of schools.  We had each had an opportunity to read, Intentional Interruption by Steven Katz and wanted to explore the notion of an administrator professional learning network, focusing on Katz’s notion of Problem of Practice.  Our schools were different, I was now at the education center, working in a system role, we had been in the role as administrators for various lengths of time and therefore a very eclectic group. Our common denominator was that we were all intrigued by Katz’s work.

So we decided to pull out our calendars and schedule some 3 hour sessions whereby we would not only delve into our own Problems of Practice, but we would construct and deconstruct a way to facilitate this process to eventually assist others who may be interested.

In order to include an added perspective to our “Breakfast Bunch” we invited a trusted and well respected Student Achievement Officer to join us.

As we started with the process, our first group member boldly decided to share what he thought was his problem of practice with our group, only to find, after an hour of interrogation from the rest of us, the root of his POP needed to go deeper and his focus shifted to another area within his school.

As a participant, I was intellectually challenged to maintain the same high level of questioning, comments and suggestions that my colleagues were bringing to the table.  I loved the dialogue and was inspired and energized and so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this process.

But it wasn’t until it was my turn on the “hot seat” that I truly appreciated the power of this process.  At our next session, it was my turn to present my Problem of Practice.  I spent time preparing and thinking through how I would present, what evidence I could use to support my position and truly felt I had a well-constructed POP.

As the interrogation began, I was comfortable in supporting my position, I held steady to what I thought was my belief about my practice and rationalized my choices.  As the questions continued, I felt that I was dodging one line of questioning only to enter another line from another colleague.  It was intense and intellectually demanding.  As educators we are so passionate about what we do and how we do what we do… It’s hard not to take the questions personally.  As the barrage continued, and just when I thought I couldn’t go any deeper …. It hit me!

And it was just like those moments in the movies or the cartoons when the light bulb goes on.


My problem of practice needed to involve others, it didn’t have to be “just about me doing it on my own”.

In my 25 years of education, I’ve had many great moments of discovering something new, a new resource, a new technology  or a new way of doing things. But I’ve never been a part of a process whereby through the unconditional trust and professionalism of others, I was able to truly come to a deeper understanding of something that now has a profound effect on how I go about doing my job and hopefully empowering others to do their job.

I’m thankful for my colleagues and that initial invitation.  Together we are continuing to inspire, empower and push not only our own but each other’s thinking.

Have you ever been involved in a professional learning opportunity that truly changed how you do your job?


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 For the last few weeks, the title of the current series at church has been Counterintuitive.  Each week the topic has changed but the foundational component of looking at “relationships, friendships, money, etc.” in a manner contrary to what common sense would indicate has been the core of each message.  As I tend to do, each week, I draw various connections from the Sunday message to my life as leader in education.  So this week as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I just had to stop and read Great Leadership Comes with a Counterintuitive Approach.  As I read the blog and reflected on his two choices of speed and failure, I wondered if it went deeper than that. 

Those skills which we once associated with strong leaders may be impeding an organization’s ability to move forward and be as creative and successful as possible.  If your leader never fails, then how often are you, going to suggest something new and innovate which may be not completely successful at first blush?   If your leader never exposes their own vulnerabilities, then how often will you share your challenges and those areas that you feel more support with? 

I’m finding in my new role that my vulnerabilities and my learning curve are exposed on a regular basis. I need the expertise, the advice and the wisdom of my team in order for us, as a collective, to make powerful, impactful decisions.   Does that make me any less of a leader?

In supporting some coaches this past week, we chatted about their role and their discomfort level with some grade levels.  I used the term “vulnerability” and encouraged them to openly share that vulnerability with teachers who are proficient with those grades.  What a great way to begin to forge a relationship.  People need to be needed.   Does that make them any less of a coach?

As we look at the expectations that we’ve placed on our educators to embrace new technologies, new paradigms in terms of professional learning,  new expectations within curriculum guidelines and new strategies for assessment and evaluation, I’d like to think that we’re also creating cultures where educators are encouraged to share their vulnerabilities and to say that they don’t “get it”.   Does asking for help make them any less of an educator?

In the summer I stumbled upon Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability. 

I find myself re-watching it every now and again as the message is one that continues to resonate with me.  If the notion of vulnerability is one that you are looking to explore, you may find this useful.

Has your notion of what makes a good leader changed over the course of your career? 

Come write with me….