Google+ Badge

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Big Issues: Don't Go It Alone

I made a mistake over a year ago. I tried to solve a big problem on my own. I got frustrated, and I raised my voice. I faced harsh consequences for my tone and volume. It's been difficult to move beyond that error because not only do I feel bad that I raised my voice, but I also learned that some whom I felt were trusted colleagues were not there to offer support and help.

The issue at play was a long standing issue that was becoming increasingly frustrating. I tried many different avenues, some better than others, to deal with the issue and to hopefully make change. Nothing was working. So when the issue rose again, I got frustrated and raised my voice. I was also challenged for the words used, but my lawyer spoke up for me and noted that I had a right to voice my opinion.

I speak of this often because I want the learning from this error to go deep, and I want to share what I learned with others so they don't have to face the consequences I faced.

The more I think about this, the more I realize that when an issue is big, it's best not to go at it alone, and you've got to seek help from trusted colleagues and teammates, professional unions and groups, and perhaps even legal help.

I think back to that day again and again. I replay the words I used and the interaction I had. Basically, the bottom line issue was that I wish I had more freedom to use technology and make technology decisions than I have. I really love to investigate, try out, and use technology to help students learn; I like the excitement and success it brings to the classroom, and I like the shared path of creativity and innovation technology allows for students and teachers alike. Hence, the multiple rules, procedures, and processes in place have been very frustrating for a teacher like me, one who likes to readily try out new ideas to better teach.

However, I don't know it all when it comes to technology, and there are multiple leaders in place that spend time discussing technology procedures, just right programs and venues, and processes. It's their job to set the stage for good tech. Though, as a teacher who has been used to trying out resources freely, the restraints related to tech are trying.

So that was the main issue at play, and my main error was raising  my voice at a point of frustration. What I wish could have happened was a conversation like this:
    "Hey, what happened? You seemed upset."
    "It was the tech again, I got frustrated because I want more freedom to use the tech I want to use."
    "Yes, but raising your voice and getting upset at colleagues isn't going to make positive change."
    "You're right."
    "I want to help. What can I do?"
    "Do you think you could lead a meeting with me and the person I got upset with, and help us find common ground?"
    "I'd be happy to do that. I know you want to do it your way, but we have to work as a team here--we have to find ways to work together to help every child learn well."
    "I just get so frustrated because I see the possibilities. I know what can happen when we use motivating, kid-friendly, tech. I know how to use tech in ways that really work well in the classroom--ways that help everyone learn with joy and depth."
    "I know, but you have to be patient. We have to work as a team. Let me think about this, but in the meantime, let's get things started by having a meeting this afternoon so we can talk about the loud voice and what happened with your colleague."
    "I appreciate your support in this difficult situation. Thanks."

Instead what happened was a lengthy series of emails that informed me there were two problems that an anonymous person had reported, but the problem was not told to me. So there was a long waiting period as I tried to figure out what could be wrong. I racked my brain thinking again and again about all the events that happened during the year. I asked the local union representative what he thought it could be. I spoke to the union lawyer and asked her what she knew. No one seemed to know what the issue was. Then when I finally learned what the issue was, I was surprised. In all my thinking, I didn't even consider that issue. I knew I got upset. I knew the other person got upset. I knew it was a sensitive topic, but I hadn't thought about it as a big problem. When I asked what the second problem was, I was asked, "What do you think the problem was?" I didn't know, and I still don't know. I don't even know if there was one. Further, when my union representative spoke up, he was told he was unable to speak since he already knew what was going on (that part I still don't really understand--what did he know?, why couldn't he speak?).  In the end, I wrote a letter of apology for raising my voice. I also decided to get some coaching with regard to the frustration and raising my voice. Only once since the event, have I become upset in a similar way for a somewhat similar reason. I've realized that when I feel powerless, I get frustrated, and I've also learned that raising your voice and getting too emotional doesn't help to solve problems (I know I should have learned that in fifth grade, but at least I've learned it now!).

Now, long after the wait, the harsh meeting, and the humbling follow-through with a private lawyer, union lawyer, system leadership, and others, I understand more, but not everything. I never learned who the anonymous reporter was. And, my local union, for some reason, was unable to represent me which still baffles me. But, the whole affair propelled me to learn more about advocacy, teamwork, using voice, my rights and responsibilities, and leadership.

With regard to tech use, it's not what I dream it would be, but instead of getting frustrated, I've recently expressed my point of view and research with respect via email. In the meantime, I'll follow the policies and procedures established.

I'm also growing better and stronger as a teammate and collaborative member of my large school team. One thing about experiencing the humility of error is that it develops keen vision when it comes to noticing and respecting others. I've learned a lot about myself too which helps me to do better work as well.

I've told this story before and I'll probably tell it again as for some reason it's an experience that doesn't quickly go away. Years before this I made a similar error with a student. I raised my voice when I should not have raised my voice. Similar to this issue, I was frustrated and felt powerless in the situation, and similar to this issue, it wasn't right to raise my voice. The right thing to do when frustration builds is to find that coach, colleague, or leader who can help you dissect the issue, and make good decisions about forward movement. There will always be issues in education that we don't have the answers for, and it's imperative in these situations that we reach out to others for support.

With the new year ahead, we know we'll face frustration in some area of our work and effort. That's a natural part of teaching and learning since there are always challenges, new and old, to face. And in light of this, it's important that we keep our cool, work to help one another, and use respectful behavior and speak as we work together to teach children well.

Thanks for listening to my tale. I hope it's helpful to you. I wish I could say that I have never made a mistake like this, but I know we all make mistakes from time to time, and what's important is that we learn from them and move forward with better work and effort. Onward.