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Friday, August 11, 2017

Professionally Speaking

In the old days, many educational organizations were low-key, relaxed, and easy-going, but today, with business models in place in many schools, there's more formality in school life. What does this mean?

The relaxed atmosphere of many schools of old was positive in that people didn't feel the great burden of test scores, so much paperwork, and layers of authority, but on the other hand, sometimes it was too relaxed in ways that may not have fostered the urgency needed to support some of our students well. As in any work we do and in relation to evolutionary process, balance is mostly a good goal to seek--balance of old and new, balance of informal and formal, balance of loose-tight protocols, balance of individuality and uniformity, and so one.

Typically when reaching for better, though, we sometimes purposely create imbalance so we can push a lot of energy and focus into the change. Good change demands that, yet it also demands the measured, disciplined balance of moving forward and looking back with reflection, debate, and discussion to make sure that we are well directed.

As I think of old schools and new schools, however, I am reminded of the need for professional speak and action. Too often the evolutionary nature of school and the push-pull between new and old can fire up emotion, make people nervous, and create disruption. This will happen in any institution that is constantly responding to change and the challenges change brings. In light of this, though, it's critical that educators remain professional in the work and speak they engage in.

How can we do this?

First. steer towards ethical, professional, and well-directed colleagues, initiatives, and effort. Avoid as much as possible unprofessional, unethical, and ill-directed efforts. It may be that you will encounter efforts that are not positive in nature, and when that happens you have to take some time to think about how you'll react. Often, these situations may profit from the combination of humor and straight talk. For example, perhaps you see a colleague or student about to make a  not-so-positive choice, and you reach out with a comment such as, "I've been tempted to do that too with a bit of light laughter, and I learned my lesson a long time ago it's never worth making that choice. . ." Without deep controversy, blame, or contempt, you can easily diffuse a lot of not-so-positive expression and acts with humor and commentary that send a message, but retain a relationship and dignity. Often you also can get your point across with simple, straight talk too. My most trustworthy colleagues always use this approach with me by simply saying, "Maureen, don't do that." A simple statement like that typically leads to a good interchange of rationale and resolve.

If issues are deeper and more troubling, it's likely that you'll have to join with others to make positive change. I recommend not going it alone when it comes to deep and potentially harmful situations. My first course of action with situations like this is to question, What could happen if I speak up or act, and what might happen if I don't speak up/act. If anyone is going to get hurt because of a lack of action, I'll always speak up, and I'll use safety as my rationale when speaking up or reaching out to work with others. There's all kinds of collegial practices, groups, unions, and agencies to support collective advocacy and speaking up for what is right and good, and it's good to be strategic, authentic, and well-purposed when you do work with others to combat what you think is harmful or problematic efforts. When working for change, you also have to be ready to hear the other side, compromise, and change your mind. Sometimes what you think is right and good actually may lack critical information that, in the end, makes you think differently and change your mind about the advocacy. That's why it's important to face big issues with others in a professional, strategic manner. Of course if an issue is very troublesome and requires quick action, it's best to err on the side of safety for others, then back track to see how the issue may not have occurred in the first place.

Other tips for professional effort include the following:
  • Teaching well is intense work so make sure you have identified private spaces where you can do your deep work without interruption.
  • As good colleagues always demonstrate, keep the sensitive issues private. When issues occur in the classroom as much as possible quietly pull a child or colleague aside to talk it out rather than make it public. This can be challenging in large groups with many demands, but it's always the right thing to do. 
  • Choose how you spend your time wisely. Don't over or under commit. Working with others is energizing and moves your work forward, but not making time for yourself can compromise your professional work.
  • Always assume the best. Sometimes school climates lack good communication so conjecture, rumors, and hearsay rule. Instead of believing what you hear, always seek the source with respectful questioning, inclusivity, and transparency. No one should be made to feel inadequate because they are trying to figure things out, get to the truth, and develop their work and collaboration in ways that matter. Assume the best, and question to figure out what's going on rather than rely on the rumor-mill for your information.
  • Use professional, positive, and proactive speak as much as possible to forward the individual and collective good. Bad language, condescending remarks, and insensitive jokes are never professional. 
  • While at work focus on your professional responsibilities, and mostly leave personal issues and interests for your private life. In every workplace there's a right overlap of professional and personal lives. We would be too cold if we drew a hard line between the two, but mostly, at work, keep the focus on the professional efforts, goals, and camaraderie as that will help you to do the good work possible and enjoy your personal life outside of school too. 
I write this post as much for myself as for anyone. No one introduced me to professional work and demeanor as a young teacher, and in many instances I learned about this the hard way. Yet as I look forward to the year of teaching and learning ahead, I have many exciting professional goals for my own work as well as the goals the collective learning community is directed towards meeting. It won't be a problem to stay focused on those goals as we do well to lead and serve students and support family members, colleagues, and others who work with us towards this goal.