Beyond the building level, few to none ever respond to my ideas or questions. Typically the emails lay dormant, and time and again, I am reminded explicitly and inferentially that I should not be emailing ideas or questions as often as I do or with the length that I email with.
This poses tremendous challenge for an educator like me.
I see so much promise and potential with regard to what we can do in schools. Whenever a new idea or potential strikes, I'm left with the dilemma of whether to share or not. If I don't share I stay safe, yet a good idea never comes to fruition. Yet, mostly, if I do share I face tremendous challenge and repercussions. For example, I'm never rated as highly as my peers because of my "overwhelming" share and questioning. Quiet obedience is much more respected than speaking up and sharing ideas.
Yet this level of analysis, research, and thought has translated well into what I can do with and for children, and this work is supported by almost all that I read and study. I also recognize that I need to think about good process too--what are the best ways to share and advocate for change in schools. I've studied this all year as part of the Teacher Leadership Initiative, and I plan to incorporate much of what I learned in the days to come.
In light of all this, what's a teacher to do?
I've tried a large number of avenues to solve this issue. I've reached out beyond school. I've also reached in and tried to reason with administrators. I've advocated for new practice and models some of which gained approval after painstaking efforts. I've worked around the clock to do all that I've been required to do so that I can also make time for new research and ways to teach and learn.
I've been chastised numerous times in multiple ways. My grade-level, room, and school have been changed probably more often than other educators I work with which is very time consuming and troubling at times. I've noticed that quieter teachers typically don't often have to change rooms or grades. I wonder if that's a reward for their quiet nature.
As I look ahead, I continue to see so much potential for promising change, yet I also notice that there is little support for this. People mostly want to own the ideas for change and take the credit. They don't want others telling them what to do and sharing in the credit or collaboration. Also good process takes time, and some are unwilling to give the time and thought needed to make good process a standard.
I certainly don't have all the answers. My areas of knowledge and expertise are targeted and specific with regard to teaching elementary school and particular subjects, tools, resources, and processes.
Time and again over the years I've advocated for better idea share systems and decision making processes. I've also advocated for time, role, and structure audits so that we can maximize our efforts. Further I've spoken out about the value of regular transparent communication so that people know what's happening in timely, forward moving, and inspiring ways.
For my own part, I'll try yet another path that includes the following actions:
- Student-centered decision making. Putting students first in all efforts.
- Focus on the learning/teaching team: students, families, colleagues, administrators, and the greater community with regard to my teaching/learning responsibility.
- Regular research, reading, writing, and study related to the work I do.
- Focus in on the content, concepts, and skills I'm required to teach.
- Apt record keeping so that I can self-assess, inform/develop programs, and communicate well the work that I do.
- Staying as much as possible in my sphere of influence which is the learning team, classroom, grade level, and school, and leaving the big ideas for my blog and outside-of-school work.
- Communicating with regularity and honesty, and speaking up if I believe the ideas, questions, and thoughts have merit for better schools and service to students.
In all I want to do the work that serves children well. In many cases our work as educators relies on the greater systems of support and organization in order to do the work possible. This is where this challenge lies.
My recent request for support to attend a great conference led to this thinking. I was hoping there would be full support for this endeavor since I know it fits well into so many positive goals for good service to students. But, I found out that only partial support has been provided. When I made more suggestions and asked more questions about greater support, my emails went unanswered which is often the response I receive when I ask for more or question/share with greater depth or range.
I'll do my best to continue down the teaching road in ways that matter. It's challenging to use choice and voice in schools where structures are tight and hierarchy often difficult to navigate. I know I am not alone in this dilemma as I've read stories by many teachers. Many of my colleagues advise me to stay quiet and not share ideas or questions--that's what they mostly do and that earns them favorable reviews and benefits. I am thinking about their words and advice, but I am also worried about this as if teachers stay quiet, who will advocate for what we need to do our jobs well for the children we serve?
I am a fan of distributive leadership models in schools. I am also a fan of transparent, clear communication with explicit loose-tight expectations and openness to questions, new ideas, and share. I believe that when systems have this kind of dynamic environment, there is so much potential and promise with regard to what we can do.
Today I start my new approach. May it be more successful than past approaches. It's difficult to lead yourself as an educator. We profit from good coaches and wise leadership--the kind of people who are willing to sit down and talk with you about your shared journey of teaching children well. When you've taught as long as I have, those people are hard to find, but I'll keep looking. Onward.