Lifeguard or a Swimmer?

As I continue to make my way through Teach Like a Pirate, I find myself reflecting on several aspects of the various chapters and connecting them to my life as an instructional leader. The chapter, “Immersion” especially resonated with me, as this is something I have recently been contemplating.


As a Curriculum Coordinator who oversees 8 areas of curriculum (K-12) as well as several instructional programs, professional development, etc., time and balance are difficult to manage. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how teachers feel when I am not fully with them.  So much in our lives as educators feels immediate – like we have to address it now – and it’s difficult to prioritize. But I was wondering what message that sends to those with whom I am supposed to be with in the moment.

In this chapter, Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) has challenged me to think this through even deeper by posing the question: Are you a lifeguard or a swimmer? He poses this question to teachers in terms of instruction – do you hand out content and then supervise from the lifeguard perch, or do you get into the pool with your students and swim around (modeling, demonstrating, helping to correct errors when you see them)?

As an administrator it seems as though the lifeguard approach is sometimes all that we can managAlicante_life_guard_towere. We have so many things vying for our attention and requiring action that we often have to sit atop that tall perch and watch all of the swimmers instead of actually diving in and engaging.

But I have to wonder: How effective is that, really?

“Divided attention is ineffective and creates a major loss of personal power.” Burgess, 17

If I attend an administrator meeting, and I’m checking email or working on discipline referrals – am I really engaging in the important conversations about students?

If I attend a PD session with my teachers, and I sit in the back or to the side working on email, or I come and go several times within the session – have I learned well enough what my teachers are learning so that I may support them when they go to implement new instructional practices?

Or if I am working on curriculum with teachers and I give them directions and send them off on their own to work while I try to accomplish the 100,000,000,000 (etc.) items on my list – can we all be confident that what we are producing meets the needs and expectations of all stakeholders?

As a human being, I do not appreciate interactions in which the other party is not fully present. I can be resentful when I am talking to someone and they are checking their phone or computer screen, etc.

A lack of immersion in the present sends a clear, although unspoken, message that this moment is somehow less important and not significant enough to be worth undivided attention. Burgess, 14

I do not ever want my teachers to feel that the moments I spend with them are not worth my time and attention.

So I need to be a swimmer. If what I am asking teachers to engage in (PD, curriculum development, meetings) is important for them – then it should be important for me as well.

Most importantly though – I want my teachers to ALL be swimmers.

swimming-15262_1280And if that is what I want happening in my classrooms throughout my district, then I better be willing and able to model that in all of my interactions with teachers.

It begins now. I’m letting go, and I’m diving in!


About kskeeters

Grateful wife, adoring mother, dedicated educator, life-long learner. @keriskeeters
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2 Responses to Lifeguard or a Swimmer?

  1. Laurie Birkenmeier says:

    Wow…this is so true. You really made me think about my own practice, Keri. Sadly, I think that the speed of our work often leads to sitting on the “lifeguard perch” rather than getting in the water with our teachers and students. I often find that my attention is continually distracted by the fires of the moment…. You are so right, this is not the way to value our kids, teachers, nor the critical learning of which we must engage. The phrase, “wherever you are, be there” comes to mind for me. I need to do a much better job of shutting my computer, putting aside my phone, and staying completely focused on truly being and listening where I am. Great post!

  2. Kim Adkins says:

    Thought-provoking post, Keri. I agree completely what we do sends a message or attitude about that moment to the people we are working with, both students and colleagues. I think being fully present for a sustained amount of time in today’s world is difficult for everyone, but especially for educators. Our profession is demanding, therefore we are always thinking about what we have to do, when it needs to be done, and what is going to happen. Multitasking has become a way of life to make the most of the time we have. It takes a conscious effort to prioritize a moment and live it right then. Thank you for giving me something to ponder and to practice.

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