Monday, November 03, 2008

Professional Growth

It was the third and final round of interviewing for the elementary teaching position, and I wanted desperately to make a strong first impression with the Superintendent. My sweaty palms and stuffy suit did not make this any easier, but all of my Marine Corps training came flooding to my frontal lobe as I entered his office. In my mind I kept repeating, "make eye contact, speak with confidence, and don't sit until he does."

We talked. Within minutes I was relaxed and the casual conversation that he was directing was about "my story" while he was diligently taking notes and genuinely seeking to understand.

As the conversation ensued he showed me a picture of Gordon's Ladder. It was the first time I had ever seen this and I didn't really grasp the full meaning of what it meant to be Unconsciously Unskilled or Unconsciously Skilled. That was five years ago and I still to the day continue to gain a deeper understanding of what Gordon's Ladder truly means.

To frame this conversation, let's put Gordon's Ladder in the context of the professional growth of teachers. The idea of continuous improvement reminds me of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development where we are able to achieve in part because of our more able peers. Being continuous however, suggests that we never truly reach a destination, there is never a moment where we can lean back on the two legs of our chair, hands woven behind our heads, and our feet propped up on the desk and say, "ahh, I've made it."

So let's for a moment focus on the bottom rung of Gordon's Ladder, Unconsciously Unskilled. This suggests that there are areas in our professional lives that are not improving and we do not even realize it. But through careful and diligent reflection we can begin to uncover those areas in our profession where we are unskilled.

In this moment of meta-cognition we would then shift into being Consciously Unskilled; we are now aware of that with which we do not know. We are then left with the opportunity to make changes and continue up the ladder towards being Consciously Skilled. In time, with continuous improvement being the goal, we would reach that place on Gordon's Ladder where we become Unconsciously Skilled, using the knowledge we have achieved in a manner that is fluid and dynamic and happens effortlessly.

Being Unconsciously Skilled seems to me like the psychological concept of Flow according to Csikszentmihalyi.

Compare Gordon's Ladder to the Social Technographic Ladder. Here lies yet another continuum of professional growth that requires a set of goals, reflection, and collegial support to begin to climb this ladder.

  • Are you aware of what you are unskilled at?
  • Are your students aware of what they are unskilled at?
  • What are you unconsciously skilled at?
  • What are your students unconsciously unskilled at?
  • Where would you place yourself on the Social Technographic Ladder?
  • How will you spend your available time to continue your professional growth on these ladders?
  • How will you empower your students to climb these ladders?

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