I'm up in the wee hours of the morning thinking about work. I'm probably not alone as I read article after article about doing it better and figuring out processes and systems for good work and strong teams.
I have worked in schools for thirty years. That's a long time. I have seen a lot of change over that time. When I started school was much more family-like. We didn't have as many leaders or tight structures, instead it was a more easy going flow. In many ways that was very good, but in some ways it begged greater process to connect us to the bigger world of education.
Now thirty years later, we have many, many tight structures, lots of leaders, coaches, and about 100 pages of mandated protocols and procedures. It's much more business-like than family like. On the positive side we're much more connected to the greater world of thinking and learning, I like that, but on the other hand it seems like teacher voice and choice has diminished significantly from the old days.
In my school, the educators and leaders seem to want to retain some of that family-like structure. We are a child-friendly school, and as many report, yes, the children can be seen skipping down the halls. This is positive. We also have many structures in place to support and develop a sense of team at grade levels. We have many leaders too, and sometimes that's challenging to navigate because with so many leaders there can be confusion about whose word to follow, and who is responsible for what. The rules are many too, as I reported about 100-pages long, that's a lot to remember and follow, but they're listed on the website should you need to look a rule or directive up.
So how does one work well in this day and age in schools?
First, meet the expectations set. In most schools the expectations for the job are clearly noted, and it's good to know those expectations well. For example in many schools, test scores are the main priority. As a new teacher, you may want to find out what the main priorities are in a school before taking a job. Early in your career you can be selective about this. Since teachers with many years earn a better salary, it's more difficult to move around once you've been teaching awhile since generally school systems like to hire educators who are at the start of their careers. (This is not always true, however.)
What are the main expectations for your role in your school environment? How are those expectations made explicit to you?
In Massachusetts, the main expectations are written down as part of the teacher evaluation system.
Next, it's important to understand the system structure. While some newer schools may have a more flattened hierarchy with greater hybrid roles allowing teachers' voice and choice, many traditional schools will have a more traditional hierarchy where the leaders make the decisions and the teachers follow the leaders' directives. In states like Massachusetts there is a current call for greater teacher leadership, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the years ahead. Generally, I think school culture is stronger and children do better if teachers are given greater autonomy over their roles and if there's support for a sense of team and collective decision making.
What roles make up your school structure? In this regard who are your leaders and what is your role with regard to their leadership?
After that, understand the expectations and support for professional learning. Again that will vary from school to school. In general, and in most states and schools, teachers are required to continually study and learn. Today with the multiple low cost and no cost options on the Internet, professional learning is easier to do than in the past. Also many systems will support educators' professional development by paying for courses, hosting professional learning events, and giving teachers time and incentives for professional study. It's great to take advantage of these opportunities as regular development of your craft results in better teaching and better teaching results in greater satisfaction.
What do you have planned for your professional development? What yearly pattern does your professional learning take?
Find allies and develop a sense of team where you work. It's great to work with a positive team, and it's also great to work in an atmosphere that supports a positive work culture and community.
Who do you team with to teach children well? How do you contribute to, support, and develop a sense of team?
Find ways to contribute to the professional community in ways that matter. This also will vary from organization to organization. For example, the contributions that are valued at my husband's organization versus mine differ substantially.
What is valued in your school community? How do you contribute to the culture's set of values?
To be positive is to be welcome in your work environment. Negativity is not embraced. This can be a challenge when you have limited voice and choice over the environment in which you work, but ultimately, it's the only way to work well.
In what ways do you demonstrate positivity in your school? How can you develop this in meaningful ways?
Seek a positive home-school balance, the kind of balance that supports personal health and happiness as that will impact the work you can do too. "All work and no play" makes for a dull employee.
What patterns do you embed into your schedule to maintain a work-home balance?
So to work well means that you understand your work environment well. You know the expectations and understand and work with the underlying structure. To work well also means that you continually develop your craft, contribute to, and support a sense of team in positive ways.
The challenge comes when you see room for change and growth in an organization. In traditional organizations, it seems that those in power have voice, but in more flattened hierarchical organizations, voice is welcome from all parts of an organization. In challenging times like these, it's important for workers to work with one another with good process to advocate for positive change and growth. Dependent upon the issue and the organization, the length of time this takes and the attitudes towards this kind of work will differ. Yet, overall, to work well is to impact positive change and growth in the ways that are possible.
To work well also means to work within the expectations of the organization in which you work. Find the places where you are most able to contribute, be positive, and meet the expectations set. Also reach out beyond the work environment to feed your spirit, gain the joy, and learn in ways that matter.