Our first meeting this school year (sometimes called Circle of Trust ®)was like a gathering of old friends. You know those friends you don’t talk with for eternity and when you see each other you pick up like no time has passed? We had lost a few members who had decided to continue the journey without the support of the group. We had also gained some new members who were eager to share this passion we call teaching.
We began with the Touchstones. Every group has rules. Professional Learning Communities have norms they establish. It is important to understand the expectations that a group is operating under. The Touchstones set forth in Parker Palmer’s work sets up a community of trust and support. The ideas increase the likelihood that our work in this professional development group will have purpose and be productive. They seem simple on the surface, but yet bring us together in solidarity and spirit to promote the inner teacher. Here are the Touchstones from my perspective however, Parker Palmer has them stated much more eloquently:
- Give and receive welcome. (There is always an invitation to share; you determine the extent to which you share.)
- Be present as fully as possible.
- Trust and learn from the silence. (Respect the silence and take time to reflect without immediate response. Become comfortable reflecting in the silence.)
- No fixing, saving, advising, or correcting each other. (Be aware of your assumptions and set them aside in order to open your viewpoints to greater possibilities.)
- When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. (When you are struggling, turn to wonder. “I wonder what brought them here. I wonder why I am reacting this way. I wonder how that felt.”)
- Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions. (Listen to what is said and listen to the feeling behind the words.)
- Attend to your own inner teacher. (Each person knows what they need and should listen to their inner teacher. The group is not for fixing problems. You have the tools to do that within yourself.)
- Speak your truth in ways that respect other people’s truth. (Speak your own truth and from your heart. Speak only for yourself.)
- Observe deep confidentiality. (Maintain a double confidentiality. What happens in Courage stays in Courage.)
- Always be 100% present, welcome everyone into the group and presume you are welcome. (Listen and respond to the group and yourself free of judgments.)
It is refreshing and soothing to come back to these Touchstones during each of our meetings. Sometimes we discuss them, other times we review them silently. This first meeting we reread each touchstone inviting members of the group to read aloud. This allowed for immediate implementation of the Touchstones. Each member can read if they are comfortable, listen to the silence, reflect, become present, wonder.
I find I struggle with these Touchstones when I reflect my attitude and experiences from the classroom and life. I have in turn, brought these into my teaching, my classroom, my family. I have been modeling respecting silence to my students. We talk about taking moments of silence, of quiet, of downtime as a gift. In the beginning this was hard for me. I am now comfortable with the silence and find peace in those moments.
This first meeting I am struggling with judgment and wonder. I shared with the group my thoughts on these Palmer’s Touchstones and my observations. I reflected on my classroom and the judgments I may have with my students and families. This helps me turn to wonder when students do not have their work completed, are off task, or struggle in class. It is an enlightened way to think about my students and pushes me to consider other possibilities and new solutions to situations in the classroom. It is amazing that professional development at this most personal level could have such a profound impact on my classroom.