Professional Development Forum

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  • 1.  What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-20-2022 19:50

    Today in a staff meeting, our question of the day was inspired by one of the kids at camp. He had asked his class: If you could spend the day with one person who doesn't exist (fictional character), who would it be?

    I loved to hear the answers of all of us in the staff meeting. We had Batman, and BayMax, and Sheldon, among others.

    And this reminded me of something else I used to do a lot: One of my favorite parts about being a teacher of reading was that I got to spend time listening to my students think about the characters in the books we were reading. As a class we examined who the characters are and what their values might be based on their actions and words in the book, this hard evidence we could point to and interpret. It was always such a joy to see students connecting with a character's perspective or exasperated with a character.

    When I left the classroom for administration, this was one of the things I missed the most-daily conversations about values and ideas and what we learn from each other-even if "each other" is a story or a character within that story.

    This spring, this joy came back to me. My wife and I read and discussed all three books in the Blue Ant trilogy by William Gibson. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I will say that I was as wrapped up in the adventures of Cayce Pollard as I had been years ago while teaching A Cricket in Times Square to 4th graders or while teaching That Night to college freshmen.

    We speculated, we ranted, we relished. When one book was finished, it was a race to pick up the next. I loved what the Blue Ant series made me think about-how technology plays various roles (some unknown to us) in our industry and in nearly all things about our lives. But what I remember and take away the most is how much I admired one of the main characters: Hollis Henry. Hollis showed me how to make and keep professional boundaries. Hollis admirably forged ahead when she didn't exactly know how or where to go. She made it okay to waiver and process something and not be sure about a decision she needed to make. What I realize now, looking back, is that I used that experience as a form of professional reflection.


    The time I spent on the page with the likes of Cayce Pollard and Hollis Henry was development time, not just entertainment.


    And so, I ask you, even if you haven't had the opportunity to read anything fictional in a while, and even if you have to dig deep into a memory of college or high school or earlier, who is character (in a book or show) that you look up to? What values have they embodied? Why do you admire them? 

    I'd like to start a little mini collection here in the responses of shows or books to watch and read that can provide an avenue of professional development in a less conventional, but totally intentional, way.

    Oh, and feel free to answer the staff meeting question in the comments: who would you spend the day with? Me, I think I might like to spend a day with Michael Burnham of Discovery.





  • 2.  RE: What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-21-2022 16:00
    Hey @Nick Kapling - thanks for getting this started!

    I was following a chat in another community today and it lead me to think about my relationship with the Harry Potter series, and how even though it's controversial at best right now, I still take a lot of love and lessons from the characters in those books. There's something truly (no pun intended here) magical about getting lost in the wizarding world, and feeling the feels associated with the kids as they're growing up. 

    I really appreciate what Daniel Radcliffe had to say in reference to J.K. Rowling's tweets a few years ago, when many queer, trans, and non-binary people were starting to feel some very mixed feelings about their love of the series (myself included): 

    I really hope that you don't entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life - then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.

    So, to answer your question - I really value the curiosity (calculated as it may be) from Hermione Granger, paired with the courage of Harry, and the witt and sort-of cheerleadereqsue qualities of Ron. Combined, it reminds me frequently that none of us can handle big challenges alone, but that when we've got community around us, we can do big things - important things - together!

    Stay awesome,

  • 3.  RE: What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-22-2022 08:48
    Hey @Quinn Drew, thank you for this very helpful perspective! ​
    I saw the previous post and was ready to leap in with characters from books I read as a kid - and then I stopped, because as much as I loved them, I haven't read some of those books in decades, and they perhaps haven't aged well at all.  And I thought, I better re-read them before I say anything. 
    So I might still go ahead and re-read them, but in the meantime I will appreciate the lessons I learned from smart, independent, and resourceful girls like Turtle Wexler and Maud Reed and Harry Crewe.

    Amy Finkelstein

  • 4.  RE: What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-22-2022 12:23
    I heard an interview recently with the actress who played Scout in the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird." To this day, the character of Scout resonates so deeply within me. She is unapologetic in how she dresses or acts, refusing to conform to "girly" expectations and fights for the truth, even when the grown ups gaslight her. She knows-- in her gut-- what is right and what is wrong. I've always loved those qualities in her, and try to honor my inner Scout from time to time :)

    Lee Ann Searight

  • 5.  RE: What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-25-2022 09:27
    Edited by Maria Mooshil 07-26-2022 09:00
    I have so many characters from books/movies/shows whom I  love, but not sure they all fit into the "help with professional development" category. So  I'll go with someone very recent:  Beth Pearson from "This Is Us," the NBC drama that ended its 6-year run a couple of months ago. She's warm, funny, fun, wise, intelligent, empathetic, and driven to pursue her passion (ballet) despite setbacks (she ultimately opened a ballet/dance studio with a different philosophy than traditional ballet schools). She's not only someone you'd want to spend the day with, she's someone you can learn from , especially in the professional realm. Too bad she's fictional, though I'm gonna guess Susan Kelechi-Watson is probably just as cool and awesome as Beth!

    Maria Mooshil

  • 6.  RE: What We Learn From Fiction

    Posted 07-26-2022 07:40
    This one took some mulling over, and it didn't click with me until last night when we couldn't settle on what to watch, so we did an umpteenth rewatch of Ted Lasso. In struggling to lead a school during a pandemic, I found a lot of the optimism and the way he builds a team around a goal to be just what I needed at the time. While I describe myself as an "incurable optimist", Ted's character defines this to the nth degree, and the line "Be curious, not judgemental" not only applied to working with colleagues, parents, and students - but even more so to myself. I'd give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, but be hardest on myself, which limited what I could accomplish. I bookmarked a couple articles on the lessons when designing my strategic plan launch for staff (for humor, I used clips from the show in between our goal setting and discussion). One I see as focused on developing teams, and one for developing habits for yourself - but both highlight a lot of what I aspire to be as a leader - even before I watched the series!

    Amy Hopkins
    Chicago, IL