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Friday, June 17, 2016

Honest Conversations Lead to Successful Schools

When Ron Noble and Craig Waterman from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) joined colleagues and me to discuss DDMs recently, I was struck by their discussion of honest conversation. I agree that it's imperative that teaching/learning organizations look for ways to foster honest conversations.

Too often teachers' voices in schools are not heard or taken seriously. When that happens, it tears away at the fabric of the organization. Honest conversations can be difficult for all of us. For example, think about the most challenging aspect of your work--the area where you continually move towards betterment and the area where progress is slow. It's difficult to talk about that because you, like your evaluator, know it's an area of challenge for you. An honest conversation about an area that challenges you is tough, but important.

When we have an attitude that none of us are without strengths or challenges, and together we do better, that leads to the ability to have honest conversations. And when we have honest conversations, we can develop our collective service to children with greater success.

Also a culture of honest, transparent, and regular dialogue, builds, rather than tears apart, our efforts. When people are afraid to honestly talk about their challenges, efforts, and perspective, then everyone loses out on their voice, expertise, knowledge, and skill. When honest dialogue exists, everyone profits.

In some cases, curriculum has been created by a few distanced from what's going on in classrooms. Some forward these curriculums without conversation or discussion with teachers who teach the information. It's mandated without review or honest dialogue. These efforts lead educators to burrow into their safe classrooms and do what they believe is right and good. This creates greater isolation than collective strength. Some believe that if we're not all doing the same thing, we're not teaching well. Instead, I believe that yes, we need to teach the same standards, but we don't need to teach it exactly in the same ways as we're different people with different experiences, personalities, and skills as well as different students, teaching environments, and colleagues. Instead, with regular collegial share, we can think about how we're meeting the goals, share ideas, grow our individual and collective practice, and reach for teaching well, but not necessarily teaching the same.

The will for sameness over strength and depth is a problem in many curriculum programs. Instead of reaching for same, we should reach for deep, personal and collective approaches to teaching well. This will create the dynamic programs we seek.

It's easy to mandate. It's simple to create one plan for everyone. But, it's not so easy to help every individual teacher progress on his/her path to teach every child well. This kind of work takes greater thought, investment, and knowledge of each and every educator with honest conversation. This kind of work results in the wonderful schools that service every child well. In a sense when leaders see educators as individuals and honor their talents, challenges, knowledge, and skill with honest conversation, that provides an example for educators to follow as they teach each child as the individual he or she is--an individual with a unique profile and potential.