How can we help schools to remove the obstacles that prevent optimal collaboration, positive decision making, and good collective action?
I have realized that it takes strategic process to change schools. An email that shares a new idea typically results in little to no action, and sometimes actually serves to move work backwards rather than forward.
As educators, what can we do to promote the kinds of processes we need to elevate the work we can do together to serve students well?
I believe that educators can come together to promote good process--process that's inclusive, transparent, timely, authentic, and honest.
To do our best work, we need to know what's going on. There is nothing more frustrating than to work all summer on an initiative and then to learn on day one of the new school year that there will be big change that negates all the summer work you did.
It's essential in good education systems, that everyone knows what's going on including ideas considered, planning, new efforts, and future goals. I believe it's both respectful and helpful for system administrators to regularly report the systemwide plans, efforts, and goals to all of the teaching/learning community members including students, families, educators, paraeducators, support staff, administrators, and citizens. I believe a weekly memo works well and have seen this in action in my school and by our union leadership and state educational leaders.
As I think about this, I wonder if our local union could institute a similar communication piece by inviting educators systemwide to share the plans, efforts, goals, and questions that they are currently involved in as a way to build a stronger, educational community.
I'm realizing that that use of time is critical when it comes to moving schools forward. In the best of circumstances, new initiatives use time well as one way to gain inclusive, transparent, and honest voice.
For example, when initiatives and opportunities, are announced with a good amount of lead time, more people are able to get involved. Busy educators need lead time so that they can make plans to be involved in new initiatives on top of their daily expectations.
Timely, Inclusive Reports
Similar to lead time, all initiatives should result in timely reports that are published soon after the initiative is completed or better yet, as the initiative moves along. Too often initiatives don't go full circle. They begin with a good idea, but don't move forward after that. Including timely reporting that's shared to all members of the school community will help to solidify efforts and keep them on track.
Too often initiatives utilize process that is not forward moving. Poor process doesn't result in the deep, thoughtful work possible. Good process is inclusive, honest, transparent, and timely. Recently our system faced issues with regard to DDMs. Those issues led me to read all the state's information about DDMs. The state had actually shared lots and lots of information about good process related to this directive, but somehow, we missed that process and didn't follow the protocols suggested. How do we make the time upfront for any initiative to identify, outline, and utilize good process? What processes have we used over time that truly don't result in good work, and what processes do we use that truly do result in good work? I believe that good process is inclusive and includes fair representation from all members of the school community in ways that everyone's voice is respected. Recently our school system used good inclusive process to solve a school districting issue. The results were very positive. People felt heard and were satisfied with the outcome. We need to do that more often. Also, one reason teacher voice is often not included in good process is time. I think that systems can re-look at structure and roles, then redistribute time and roles so that educators who work with students regularly are included in all processes that affect the work we do to teach well.
Justice and Fairness
Sometimes old routines, process, timelines, and efforts are mired in injustice and unfairness. It could be that these long-held ways of doing things were once just and fair, but with changing times, perspectives, and awareness, it becomes evident that the efforts are no longer fair and just. It's important to audit systems for justice and fairness. There's many ways that you can do this. First, you can look for bias. Do some groups get greater opportunity and voice than other groups? You could audit for gender, race, age, culture, or role biases with regard to pay, work conditions, or time. For example, I spoke to a teacher this week who told me that elementary school educators were paid much less than high school teachers in her system. They remedied that with a recent contract.
Work responsibilities, expectations, conditions, and time can be unjust too. For example, is there a big difference with time-on-task from one level to another. A high school educator confided to me that his role at the high school gave him a lot more free time than his former role at the elementary school. Is that true in most systems? If so, why? Similarly nursing mothers often complain that they don't have space to nurse--is this just? Way way back there were not a lot of new moms in schools so that missing piece in school culture may reflect the fact that our school environments have not been re-looked at to better accommodate young mothers who work and care for babies too.
We can look at this through a child's lens too. How has the world changed? Have schools kept up with those changes to accommodate young learners. One consistent frustration in elementary school is students who either don't bring snacks or bring unhealthy snacks. This results in hungry, agitated students, and when students feel like this, they don't learn. Many families forget snack because they are so busy working two jobs, taking care of extended families, and keeping up with all the expectations of living life today. How could schools remedy this issue? Could there be healthy snack clubs in school that students belong to that provide them with a daily snack choice that's healthy and available as needed. Google provides free food to their employees all day long--those people who work at Google never have to worry about being hungry or not having the food they need when they need it. Can we do this for children? Children often have growth spurts and uneven food needs as they grow and change--perhaps a change like this would make our teaching/learning environments more fair and just.
As a colleague often says, teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. It's important that we revisit our teaching/learning routines, environments, process, timelines, roles, and communication in inclusive, honest ways to see if we are keeping up with what's possible when it comes to optimal teaching and learning.
There's so much we can do to better our schools and learning organizations. Inefficient, exclusive, untimely, and under-communicated efforts have stood in the way of what's possible. I believe we can work together to make positive change, and there is a great sense of pride and positivity that comes with this good work.