Or talk in the chat or during whole-group discussions.
Or participate in your Nearpod/Jamboard/Flipgrid/cool tech tool du jour activity.
Or stay off of other tabs/devices.
Or complete your assignments.
Well, I don’t really know, of course. I’m not your students. But I can tell you why I turn off my camera/remain silent/get on my phone/do other things during the Zoom meetings and professional development sessions I’m required to attend.
I do it because there is no new learning happening for me.
Or I do it because I don’t understand/don’t know how to do the task I’m supposed to be doing and don’t have what I need to solve that problem.
Or I do it because the content of the meeting/PD is not relevant to (or is maybe even counter to) my goals and the context in which I’m working.
Or I do it because I have other things I need to get done and attending the meeting/PD rather than working on them makes me so angry/frustrated/anxious I can hardly stand it.
Or I do it because I’m struggling emotionally or physically—sometimes with things that aren’t even about work—and don’t want to reveal that to others.
Or I do it for reasons that have nothing to do with the person leading the PD/meeting but have everything to do with pressures I’m feeling from other people in the room.
Or I do it because I think the person leading the meeting/PD doesn’t really want to hear what I have to say.
In short, I do it because I am so uncomfortable that disengaging a little feels like the only way I can safely and appropriately manage my feelings/behavior and remain engaged at any level.
When I first left the classroom and became the person standing at the front of the room during staff PDs, I got really frustrated—and judgy—when adult peers engaged in behaviors I’d long associated only with students. They talked when I was talking, they got on their phones, they didn’t follow directions, they rushed through assigned tasks, they were off-task (often doing other work tasks, but not the tasks I’d given them).
“They are being PAID to be here,” I’d grumble to fellow instructional coaches. “It’s their JOB to show up and participate positively.”
Yeah, sure, 2010 Rita. You were right–but not very effective.
As I started my second year of developing and delivering PDs, I decided that maybe I needed to do a better job of walking my talk when it came to learner engagement, and I was much more purposeful about doing the kinds of things in my PDs that I was suggesting teachers do in their classes. And waddya know? Things went much better. By the end of that year, I’d developed a new mantra: Learners are learners. Whether you’re 5 or 55, a lot of the same principles apply: We all want to see purpose and meaning in the things we’re being taught how to do, we all want to believe that we can do them, and we all want to feel positive connections with our co-learners. If we don’t, we disengage or find work arounds or go through the motions.
My behaviors might lead my bosses or co-workers to conclude that I don’t care (or am lazy, unprofessional, undisciplined, etc.). What I would want them to know is that, paradoxically, the opposite is true: I care so much about doing my work well that if something in or about your meeting/PD isn’t congruent with my values and goals, I do what I have to do to get through it enough to get on with what I think my real work is.
What I wish the people in charge of running meetings or delivering PD could know is that I turn off my camera or get on my phone or do another task or refuse to share my thoughts because doing so is the only way I can remain engaged at all. It is me choosing these behaviors rather than engaging in others that would be far more problematic: leaving the meeting completely, blurting out my negative/angry thoughts, crying on screen for all to see (and feel uncomfortable about).
I wish they could know it is me doing my best to manage a bad day. And this year, there are more bad days than usual.
Teaching and learning is always a two-way street, and there are some things students bring into a classroom that our best efforts cannot truly mitigate. (Also: Teachers are human, and sometimes the choices we make are the only ones possible for us in any given moment, and we should be given grace, too.) So, I’m not putting all responsibility for my issues on the people at the front of the room. But maybe it would help students–and teachers and parents!–if we accepted that our students and kids are not fundamentally different from adults; they are just younger. No matter our age, we all want to feel connected to others, safe to be ourselves, and able to succeed in the things that matter to us.
I’m sure not perfect in this. I still get frustrated (see: human) and when too many things are pushing on me I can go right back to a rigid, judgy place (with folks of any age). But when I can remember and live the truth of this, it’s so much easier for me to accept and respond without judgement to what I might label as resistance; instead of concluding that someone doesn’t care, I wonder what it is they care about that I might not be seeing, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for different ways of engaging.
Wouldn’t so many things be better if we could all do this more? Especially now, especially in the hard weeks just ahead of us.