Monday, March 23, 2015

Empowering Educators

Educators join the profession to make a difference in children's lives.

For many reasons, teachers find their way to school because they know the work that educators do matters to children and to this world.

They want to impart a love of subject, mindsets and behaviors for success, a sense of collaboration and community, and creativity too.

There are many ways to empower educators in a learning/teaching community, and when educators in a community are empowered, the work they are able to do for students is amazing!

As I look over my history of 29 years as a school teacher, I am cognizant of these empowering structures and actions both from the past and present:

Transparent, Regular, Consistent Communication
It is empowering to know what's going on. When teachers are in the know about an organization's history, current goals and plans, and vision/mission, they work as part of that team. Lack of knowledge leads to conjecture, side-talk, and rumors. Whenever possible it's best to tell the story from start-to-finish of new initiatives, goals, and plans.

Last year our school system had a major reconfiguration at the elementary level. The process was well planned, explicit, and transparent which resulted in few to no issues and a healthy change for all. This is evidence of the role that thoughtful, open communication plays with regard to empowering educators and the entire learning community.

Inclusive Decision Making
When educators are invited to the decision making table in honest, valued ways, that's empowering. Educators are invested in students' welfare and they want the best for every child. When they are invited to be part of the decision making process this increases investment, effort, and delivery. They feel like part of the team and thus model that sense of team to the entire learning community.

When decisions are repeatedly made for educators, investment and effort can wane.  To make decision making inclusive requires explicit, thoughtful process that's efficient and targeted on the important matters of school life. Good process includes timelines, patterns, apt communication, agendas, and structure. Making the time to create and share the process upfront helps everyone at the decision making table to interact with skill and purpose.

Energy Management and Long Term Plans
We all bring to the job a personal amount of energy. Over time the energy ebb and flow might be about the same, but from time to time one may have more or less energy to give the job. As a mother of young children in a two-parent working household, my time was greatly limited, but as a young professional without children I had lots of time, and now again as a veteran teacher and mother of young adult and teen children, I also have more time.

Similarly different roles in the building might use energy differently. For example teachers who are mainly with 20plus students or more all day may have less available time and energy than teachers working with one or two students at a time. I know that's not always true because working with one very challenging-to-teach student can sometimes require as much energy as a class of 25--it depends on the situation, but there's definitely different energy requirements for various positions, and I'm not exactly sure how you audit that, but it's a factor to consider as you think about what's possible in schools and how to maximize our efforts with regard to teaching students well.

I often think that we haven't factored in the "energy quotient" enough when it comes to maximizing our efforts and deploying our resources for best effect. Without deep thought about this I think we sometimes offer too much of the same program rather than lots of pockets of deep learning and expertise. I want to think more about this, but for now, the energy and time available for each professional is an important consideration with regard to empowering educators. When educators are asked to succeed with unreasonable expectations, that's not empowering, but when the expectations match the available time and energy, that is empowering.

Leaders as Coaches
There's lots of talk about leveling the hierarchy in schools. I like to think of that as moving schools to more of a servant leadership model which is a model where leaders serve their staff. For example as a servant leader teacher, I serve my students and they lead me. I continue to believe that successful organizations profit from the leadership of wise and experienced leaders, people who work with staff to set vision and goals, and then lead all towards those goals in ethical, respectful ways. I look forward to working with good leaders.

I believe that leaders empower their employees when they coach those employees forward with good communication, modeling, responsible risk-taking, compassion, vision, and care. A leader in my midst has fostered tremendous growth in many due to his ability to be compassionate about individual's personal stories, needs, and interests. It has been amazing to see how his care has transformed educators. Another leader I worked with wasn't afraid to use truth and honesty coupled with support to help educators move through their tough spots when it came to teaching well. Good leaders inspire and empower which makes learning/teaching organizations strong.

Mission and Vision
Teachers are empowered when they are working for a common, transparent vision, a vision born out of the greater needs of the entire teaching/learning community. When the mission and vision are well made and taken seriously, education communities grow with strength.

Using time-on-task for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with good structure and process uplifts organizations. Making more time for apt collaboration and shared responsive service to students also empowers educators. We can't do the job alone. It takes strategic, thoughtful collaboration to do the job well. This doesn't mean that every decision has to be a collaborative one, but instead it means that we have the opportunity to work with each other to develop apt purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Fair Salaries
When educators receive a fair salary for their efforts it translates into investment since there isn't the need to have countless additional jobs to pay the bills.

Empowering educators leads educators to their best effort and contribution to the teaching/learning community. I'm sure there are factors that I've missed here and will add to the list as time goes on. As educators we can work to empower one another too with actions similar to the ones above.