Diary of a Techy Teacher: Why I’m Taking a One-Year Sabbatical with BetterLesson

Diary of a Techy Teacher: Why I’m Taking a One-Year Sabbatical with BetterLesson

Shutterstock / Javier Brosch

A “sabbatical.” A “one-year leave.” In the teaching world, those are terms usually reserved for professors and higher education. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever heard these terms happened back when I was in college, where I also learned that taking a sabbatical is a requirement at some universities.

With this in mind, I bet you can't name a K-12 educator who took a sabbatical while you were an elementary, middle school, or even high school student. For teachers, taking a sabbatical or one-year leave is still a novel idea. Most teachers probably haven't explored the idea or don't realize that many teaching contracts give you the option.

So, why should this matter to you?

For the past eight years, I've taught high school science in a rural 9-12th grade school district with 186 students. When I was named the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year, I became a voice for education in my state. Even though I'd immersed myself in teacher leadership roles before being named, this opportunity allowed me to explore the role more deeply. As a result, after each event, I'd return to my classroom with a confining feeling in the back of my mind. The experiences as Teacher of the Year had changed me, and I wanted to do more for my students, school, and state.

Although I felt a need to change roles, rural school districts don't often have the capacity to establish formal teacher leadership positions, like curriculum directors, technology integration specialists or instructional coaches. With a dropping enrollment, this wasn't an option for my school. Consequently, I started exploring teacher leadership roles in other capacities—and that eventually led me to BetterLesson.

Why Take a Sabbatical? It’s Improving My Instructional Coaching

This year, I will be working as a Blended Learning Instructional Coach with BetterLesson. Under this new role, I’ll be helping educators from across the country make the shift from the traditional teaching model to a blended, personalized instructional model. 

One of my passions is blended learning. Over the past five years, I’ve immersed my earth science and physics students in self-paced, blended learning. In conjunction with blended learning, I’ve used gamification to change the culture of my classroom—focusing on students becoming positive collaborators and self-managers of their learning. While establishing and reestablishing what blended learning looks like in my classroom, I created strategies to address students' needs in my classroom, which were then shared with educators.

From this experience, I discovered that I could use my classroom experiences to help shape blended learning in our country. But, the strategies I use in my classroom aren’t enough. Coaching adults requires a different skill set than coaching students. As Elena Aguilar says in The Art of Coaching, “the art of coaching is doing, thinking, and being... These are the three things that can make coaching transformational.” By taking a sabbatical, I’m opening up time to focus exclusively on not just the strategies behind coaching, like feedback or questioning, but how to holistically coach adults through the blended learning lens.

Fortunately, my working relationship with BetterLesson is now making this part of my teacher leadership plan possible. While I’m on sabbatical, I’ll be working to develop my skills as an instructional coach through the blended learning lens, given that I have a desire to utilize my teacher leadership skills to develop as a coach and grow innovative teacher leaders for our next generation.

Why Take a Sabbatical? I’m Developing a Skill Set

When considering a sabbatical or leave of absence, it’s important to consider your goals. What pushed you to think about a sabbatical in the first place? With my goal of becoming a better coach in mind, I have a few questions I’m interested in exploring in order to become a better educator for my students upon return to the classroom:

  • What strategies are educators across the country utilizing to make blended learning successful in their classrooms and schools?
  • What role does virtual coaching and personalized professional development play in teacher development and growth?
  • How can we use personalized professional development (especially through the blended learning lens) to develop innovative teacher leaders in our schools?

Although I may not be able to answer all of these questions over the course of a year, I know these questions will help drive my professional learning during my sabbatical. It feels like I’m embarking on my own action research project—and it feels good to have goals.

Reasoning With the “Teacher Guilt” of Leaving the Classroom

You may be thinking a sabbatical sounds intriguing. However, in the back of your mind you’re afraid to take the leap. You may also be feeling teacher guilt. The guilt you have for leaving your classroom.

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to dive into a new role. I’m a capable teacher, I love my students, and I work with great colleagues. And, like any new position there are always unknowns—Will it address my professional needs? Will the pay or insurance meet the needs of my family? Will I want to return to the classroom when I’m done? How will my students fare without me? All are valid questions.

However, taking a sabbatical is not about removing yourself from the classroom. It’s about taking the opportunity to grow as a professional in a capacity not otherwise possible. It’s important to consider your goals, weigh the pros and cons, and use your professional desires to drive your decision. Yes, it’s a novel idea, with its own set of challenges; however, it can also be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself, your students, and your school.

So… Is a Sabbatical Right for You?

A sabbatical may or may not be right for you, but what this conversation surfaces is a dialogue about our need and desire to continue to grow professionally. If you’re able to do this in your classroom and school, fantastic. However, if you need to reach beyond your classroom in order to professionally grow, that’s fine too. You shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so. As one of my students told me, “Don’t worry about us Mrs. Anderson—you do you.”

In the end, whether you take a sabbatical or not, you’ve allowed yourself to explore how to be a better version of the professional you, and that’s always a step in the right direction.

Jessica Anderson (@TriSciCurious) is the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year. She teaches earth science, chemistry, and physics at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Montana). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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