The Working Sabbatical: One Year of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Building an ambivalent army of intrinsically motivated learners who teach others how to learn & reach their greatest potential as educators.

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I'm particularly interested in the topic of motivation in terms of the conditions that need to be present to get people to take action. In this instance, when I became an instructional technologist, I had much greater autonomy and time to learn based on what I thought was interesting and also beneficial for other teachers to understand when effectively integrating technology into the classroom.

In my mind, my skills grew exponentially over the course of just one year because I had the time needed to network with thought leaders, reflect on my own practices and experiment in a low risk environment. As a result, I felt re-energized, enthusiastic and extremely confident in what I learned. 

The downside was that I was given very little time to share any of this with teachers and often got push back from teachers who would say things like, "Yeah, but you're not in the classroom anymore. You don't teach these kids and those ideas are cool, but they won't work for me."

I like to imagine what would have happened had gone back into the classroom after that one year and had the chance to apply what I learned. There's no telling what the results would have been, but I'm always the optimist and think the findings would be pretty stellar.

I want replicate that experience by rewarding an exemplar teacher and giving them a one year "working sabbatical" if you will, where the teacher gets to learn purely based on what motivates them and the autonomy and time to do so. As mentioned above, in return they will share what they've learned within the district through blogging and professional development. After 12 months, they return to the classroom a... new teacher full of enthusiasm, new ideas and creative confidence. 

I also picture that over time, the teachers who are selected to participate in this program form an advisory board or think tank of sorts responsible for being a resource to new entrants to the program. They would also collaborate with other think tanks in the region, do R&D and well... I could go on and on and hope you see where I'm going with this.

I think one of the crucial aspects of this program is that teachers get selected based on a track record of pedagogical excellence and this program is a reward for their hard work. Therefore, setting the bar in a school for teachers to strive for pedagogical excellence if they desire one year away from the classroom full of autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

I have a lot of ideas in my head about this and hope to leverage the collective intelligence of this group to find a way to make this work.


Join the conversation:

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The first thing that strikes me about the idea is that it's based on "pushing" rather than "pulling," as many teacher PD programs tend to do. The incentive of a sabbatical year focusing on our own growth can thus be powerful motivation.

There are number of details and questions we can consider, too, including requirements for participating in the program. In addition to maintaining a record of growth activities and reflection through blogging, what else does the program involve? Presenting at conferences or leading workshops at the school and/or district? Is there a stipend to cover costs? What other structure can we provide for the 12 months of the program?

I also wonder how we might handle coverage for the courses our sabbatical winner will vacate for the year. Perhaps we can use it as an opportunity to train new teachers at the same time? What if we welcomed green teachers into the field by having them cover courses and doing other things to prepare them for a career in teaching (e.g., helping with administrative tasks, advisory programs, parent programs, etc.)?

Lots of other things to think about, and I'm looking forward to working with this idea over the next few weeks! Thanks again, Eric, for getting it started!

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Moss Pike I also wondered about the program length being 12 months long.  Maybe the PD could be a menu of shorter programs (1 to 4 weeks).  This would provide teachers with a choice and time to practice what they learn and try it out on their class quickly. 

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My thoughts on the 12 months for this to happen:
- Nearly every district has an Instructional Technologist, TOSA etc. View this as one year in one of those roles.
- Each school or district who adopts this idea would have a full time "sub" who fills in for the teacher on the working sabbatical. 
- Teacher gets selcted, the sub fills in for one year. Next teacher gets selected, the sub fills in for the following year. 
- The sub will remain a full time district employee and will always be responsible for filling the classroom vacated by the teacher on sabbatical.
- Keep in mind, it is a "working sabbatical." They will have time to explore, but also expectations to share and provide training and PD on what they are learning. 

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Moss Pike and Eric Patnoudes I can see this year (or half year, or trimester, or quarter) sabbatical working.  I definitely agree that part of the time would be the expectation to share what you're learning throughout the process. What if part of the time was also spent collaborating with other teachers/schools/districts/organizations working on similar ideas? Then the learning would be reaching an even wider community and (hopefully) lasting partnerships would be built.  The biggest question, of course, is where would the $ come from.  I know that there is more flexibility in the new LCAP way of district funding, so we may want to find some people who are more knowledgable about the LCAP and funding to find possible ways to pay for salaries, workshops, etc.  

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