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Saturday, August 05, 2017

To Support, Not Overwhelm

Recently a colleague from another school district called to tell me of her terrific advocacy to support students. I admire her courage, passion, and energy. I know that she wants to do the best for the students she teaches.

Over time this colleague has lamented the lack of voice, choice, and leadership teachers in her school face. She has also told me sad and worrisome tales of her students' tremendous needs and struggles. In her school there's clearly a lack of structure at play since the school is filled with dedicated teachers who work tirelessly to serve the students without good structure or administrative support. In many ways, the administrators serve as obstacles to the good work, energy, and effort the teachers are eager to maximize for the benefit of the students.

I have said it before and will say it again, I think one of the biggest issues in schools today is that we're operating with outdated structures that impede good learning/teaching rather than maximize the excellence educators are capable of.

As I continue to advocate for modern, distributive leadership structures in school that maximize our commitment and effort, I also want to think about my role in all of this. If you read my posts, you know I've been criticized as overwhelming and "creating tension" in the school house. I know that my ideas burst forth like thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes sometimes. The enthusiasm of new learning plus the potential of change plus the will to push that change ahead often creates idea/practice storms of voice, creativity, writing, and share. Some may think of it positively as passion while others cower in the corners with concern.

As I reckon with my spirit to learn, create, and make change, I also want to caution myself that it's best not to overwhelm, but instead be a guide on the side when needed. As the wise leaders around me know, the critical skill here is listening and waiting to speak until that just right moment.

I can use my passionate energy to develop my practice in ways that matter. Teaching well at the elementary level demands as much positive energy as you can muster, and passion is a good way to generate that level of energy. Yet, when I'm working with colleagues in the field, it's important to listen to their stories, problem solve with them, and offer seeds of advice, connection, or further questions if I have what they're looking for. Otherwise it's best to stay quiet and put that energy into action instead.

At my grade level, we have a good way of share which is to have an idea Google doc. We can place our ideas in the doc whenever they occur, and then when we meet we discuss the points collected. This is a good way to streamline and target our face-to-face time in valuable ways.

As a parent of young adults, I have a similar challenge which is to support, but not overwhelm--to be there when they need me, but to foster their independence and identity by listening and believing in them. The same is true for the talented colleagues I work with, students, and families too. It's about what we can do together rather than old models of a leader and many followers--it's collective structure that leads to good work tonight, not hierarchical models.

How do you support, but not overwhelm? What strategies for this are visible in your practice? How do you contribute to and support a dynamic collaborative team structure in your classroom, school, district, and home? I'm curious.