Jennifer Carlson & Paul Magnuson
We are two educators at two different institutions on two continents with the same interest: Uplift. To learn how other educators define, think about, experience, and practice Uplift, we invited other educators, and created a platform to share our perceptions, perspectives, and experiences. We had no specific plan for what we would share, or how. We simply wanted to talk about and learn more about Uplift.
This self-organised experience resulted in two learnings: (1) reactions to the topic of Uplift and (2) the process.
Educators who engage in rich conversations about critical moments in their teaching, the human condition, perceptions of who they are as teachers, and through sharing stories, grow as professionals and can subsequently transform their teaching (Palmer, 1993). Palmer reminds us that good teachers “are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves” (p. 11).
In weaving that world, we looked to Uplift; which is defined as “work rooted in caring, empowerment, and advocacy” (Bracho, 2020, p. 13), positive experiences (Neils, et al, 2018), and “real-world” uplifting experiences (e.g., enjoying a hobby, receiving positive feedback, or having a pleasant social interaction)” (Starr & Hershenberg, 2017, p. 1443). We began to reflect, consider, converse, and analyze Uplift and its benefit in teaching and learning.
Bill Tihen initially introduced Uplift at Leysin American School as a principle of good teaching (see e.g. Tihen, Uplift Resources, at www.EDgility.school). We fused Bill’s philosophy with a focus on learner strengths, encouraging discovery, and developing a hopeful and person-focused humankind. We began to wonder “How do other educators from around the world define and view Uplift?”
We sought to find out by contacting a half dozen educators, from Malaysia to Minnesota, who agreed to contribute to the discussion using WhatsApp, one of the free messenger applications that work across continents to send text messages and media, like photos, videos, and audio. The participants were educators, including current and former teachers, student teachers, educational consultants, and university professors.
The WhatsApp group provided a space for self-organized, open-ended discussion and idea exchange on a single topic, Uplift. In addition to the WhatsApp discussion, the group agreed to meet on Zoom on three Saturdays, every other week, for approximately one hour. Not everyone who participated was able to be at every Zoom. Some contributed frequently to the WhatsApp discussions and Zoom meetings, others much less.
The first Zoom focused on personal definitions of Uplift and what it might look like, sound like, and feel like in teaching and learning. Then, in the two subsequent weeks, participants used WhatsApp to (1) share moments of Uplift in our teaching and work roles and (2) reflect on Uplift in learning. After two weeks, we met via Zoom to talk about our experiences, then spent two more weeks on WhatsApp before finishing with a final Zoom. Four weeks, one topic. Self-organized, free, and entirely voluntary.
What we learned
As participant observers, it became clear to us that our self-organized professional exchange was both rich on the topic of Uplift and rich in Uplift.
The topic of Uplift
Heath (2019) shares that “Moments are what we remember and what we cherish. Certainly, we might celebrate achieving a goal…but the achievement is embedded in a moment” (p. 18). Moments in time were shared daily throughout the month-long WhatsApp conversations. Participants uploaded photos, described events, shared resources, stories, and moments where they witnessed, experienced, or created Uplift.
Some sharings of Uplift were in-the-moment. For example, one member posted a photo of a creek and rock bed they experienced while on a hike and another shared a photo of their smiling students proudly holding artwork they had just completed.
Other sharings were peak moments in teaching, like in an engineering class where the students collaborated and developed curiosity, problem-solving skills, and creative thinking to construct a boat. Another connected with a student that was new to the school over strawberries. Both teachers were Uplifted, hopefully, the students experienced Uplift, too.
We discovered that simply creating the space and opportunity to converse about Uplift resulted in the sharing of many lived experiences. This process, largely free of constraints of time, space, or directive, was Uplifting in itself.
We organized the process by identifying participants, making the two platforms accessible (WhatsApp and Zoom), determining the topic, and arranging for meeting times; however, the participation and engagement within that structure were entirely self-organized.
Participants could post on WhatsApp anywhere and at any time. They could choose to attend the Zoom, invest in the time, be present, or not. The self-organized discussions resulted in an authentic and spontaneous interaction where posts and responses arose naturally through connections, experiences, and inspirations.
Participants expressed that they made connections, gained confidence, had the freedom to explore ideas, and felt Uplifted throughout the process. One participant expressed, “I now see Uplift everywhere!”
How to do it
As we discovered, exploring ideas, exchanging resources, and learning from each other need not be complicated. Self-organized professional development can be accessible, engaging, enriching, and Uplifting without being overly structured and time consuming.
We encourage a simple start. Reach out to other professionals or friends in or outside of your network, select and make available a platform for discussion, and choose a topic or allow the topic to authentically develop. And get started!
We are almost a little embarrassed about how easy the process is. Get a group together on WhatsApp and share lived experiences on a topic you have chosen. We are almost afraid that educators and schools that could benefit from such an easy method of PD will ignore it, or brush it aside, because it is not complicated enough!
Further, we can imagine criticism that it is not clear what participants get out of the experience. Yet, we know that informal water cooler chats, those conversations in the staff room, contribute to our learning, and to our professional development. So, too, can this process. We encourage removing the constraints and opening the door for self-organized professional development. There is little reason to increase the complexity, just to make it appear more important. KISS, as they say. Keep It Simple, Silly.
Two educators, one big idea (thanks Bill!), and many colleagues created an Uplifting experience of learning, appreciation, application, and growth. As one participant shared, “Education gets stuck in correctness and correction instead of exploring ideas, goals, pros, and cons building on what the students have to offer” (WhatsApp, April 26). A self-organized professional development experience, where the participants are both the teacher and the student, invites discovery, curiosity, and connection. It provides space and time for exploration, personal and professional growth, and, as we uncovered, a great deal of Uplift.
Jennifer Carlson, Ph.D. Hamline University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Magnuson, Ph.D. Leysin American School, Copperfield International School, and Moreland University, email@example.com
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jennifer Carlson researches literacy, online learning, and positivity, joy and Uplift in education. She is a professor in the School of Education and Leadership at Hamline University, Minnesota, USA.
Paul Magnuson continues to experiment in professional learning at Leysin American School and at Copperfield International School, Verbier. He is an instructor at Moreland University and a frequent blogger for The International Educator.