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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Are Educators Led with Respect?

As I listened to stories of school in multiple places at multiple levels, I noted differences in respect.

In some schools and at some levels, educators have significant choice and voice, and at other schools and other levels, educators have much less voice and choice. I wondered why this is true and looked a little deeper.

At some schools and some levels, educators choose and lead their own professional development. Treated well as professionals, those teachers have the time and authority to identify their needs and interests, and then to utilize professional dollars and time to meet those needs and interests. At other schools and levels, educators' professional development is chosen for them and done to them. There is little voice and choice, thus leading to mostly disrespectful professional development that includes little to no teacher voice and choice.

At some schools and some levels, educators choose the supplies they will use to teach well including classroom furniture, teaching resources, and storage facilities. At other schools and levels, materials, furniture, and storage facilities are chosen for educators. Again, when educators have little to no say over the environment they teach in and the materials they use, there is less respect and capacity too.

At some schools and some levels, educators are treated with respect. Administration considers themselves servants to the educators who in turn consider themselves servants to the students--this kind of servant leadership attitude results in a students-first teaching/learning environment. In other schools and levels, administrators use a hierarchical model where mostly or only administrators make decisions, know what's going on, and set vision--this top-down, sometimes cliquish, model can be oppressive and disrespectful leaving educators without any or little choice, voice, or respect. One time I heard of an administrator who essentially said that anyone can teach and it didn't matter who was hired--this is the kind of hierarchical, disrespectful attitude that oppresses educators leading to less potential capacity and investment.

At some schools and some levels, communication is inclusive, transparent and timely. Educators are on the frontline of knowing what's going on, and in other schools and levels communication is unshared, exclusive, and irregular thus keeping educators out of the loop of knowing about new ideas, what's going on across the system, and what is planned for the future. This kind of information is shared without clarity and timeliness thus leading to less potential investment, collaboration, and good work. Conjecture and hearsay unfortunately gain traction in systems like this.

In the best of schools and circumstances, educators are full members of the teaching/learning community--they make informed, collective professional choices that matter with other stakeholders including students, family members, administrators and community members. These educators choose quality professional development experiences, the furniture and materials that they utilize to teach well, and goals and vision of their collective work and endeavor. In situations like this educators are empowered, inspired, and invested because they are able to do the good work possible to serve students well. Unfortunately there are other schools and levels where teachers are continually demeaned, disrespected, and disregarded with little choice, voice, or respect--in these schools teachers suffer and so do their students because educators' professional investment, experience, and capacity is greatly challenged by suffocating, oppressive hierarchical systems.

I imagine that most school systems fall somewhere on the oppressed--empowered scale. As a believer in the servant leadership model of management, and one who regards educators' professional study, experience, and dedication with reverence, I believe that systems need to embrace more holistic, distributive, collaborative models of leadership, decision making, and effort--the kinds of leadership models that allow all stakeholders to have voice and choice in ways that empower our schools and students in ways that matter. Similarly, I also believe that most educators in school systems should have direct time-on-task with students, when too many educators are distanced from working directly with students, there is greater potential for less teacher voice and choice as there becomes a thick layer of decision makers who are distanced from the good work students' need and desire, the kind of work that leads to good decisions, discussion, and debate.