Thursday, November 15, 2018

Show your solidarity; go hard on the problem, not the people

Many know the phrase "Go hard on the problem, not the people," a phrase made famous in the book, Getting to Yes. This phrase is particularly important when you work in a small community, a community where people rely on each other in multiple overlapping ways. For example many teachers who work in our school community also bring their children to our schools. Those same teachers coach alongside community members, play musical instruments together, attend celebrations, and work on teams and committees together too. In many ways, educators and community members have a common goal which is to teach and nurture children well, but in some ways, the goals differ when it comes to how schools are organized, led, and supported.

Recently members of the community forwarded an effort to change school start times, an effort that found many teachers and some community members on opposing sides. While some community members want to upset the current schedules and routines to meet relatively new research about the negative impact of too-early start times for teens, many educators feel the decisions made were not made with an inclusive process that resulted in a proposed positive changes for all students, families, and educators.

Our local union surveyed educators, and 2/3 expressed dismay at the final proposals for start time change--their dismay included factors such as too-early starts for elementary students which will compromise sleep patterns and child care arrangements. Too early starts mean that children will have to go to bed very early which may mean they miss out on important family time and early evening activities. Too-early start times mean that children will be coming home earlier in the day too which for many families will result in additional childcare payments and arrangements. The too early starts will compromise some educators' abilities to access early morning childcare and pay those fees too, thus potential increased costs and scheduling issues for the educators with young families. The later start for high school will compromise sports teams abilities to get to games on time and attend all their classes too. The later start for high school may also compromise some high school teachers ability to coach teams and run clubs as well.

The community members who support the change point to the research and the fact that change is difficult in this debate. The educators who support the change, support it because of the research and because for some it is a better personal schedule. The educators and community members who oppose the change worry that the plans made are incomplete and the process used was not inclusive and comprehensive enough--they worry that the plan is incomplete and does not attend to additional important research about the lives of young children and the many details related to this change, details that greatly impact a student's day and a student's ability to successfully achieve.

As a long time teacher in the school community, I agree with the majority of the teachers who feel the plan is too-rushed and incomplete. While I tend to be more of a big-picture person than a detail person, I highly regard my colleagues who have pointed out a long list of details that have not been considered in this decision--details that are important to the success of all students and of particular importance to our most vulnerable students, students who may be going home to empty houses early in the day and students whose families may be unable to support the new schedules in a healthy, positive way.

To me this issue represents a shift for our union and our educator-administration efforts. For too long, I believe that our system has not updated the processes to create a more inclusive, modern teaching/learning community that invites the voices and choices of all stakeholders to the table with honesty, respect, and an open mind. I don't believe this is the fault of any one person or group, but I believe, instead, it is the result of the natural evolution of organizations. Like many systems, I think that our system is mired in some outdated decision making processes that sometimes rely more on public relations and superficial change rather than deep study and long term vision. Thanks to technological advances as well as advances in organizational and leadership research as well as a number of new open minded and well educated educators and system/community leaders, I think this debate can actually work to lead educators, the school committee, and administration forward to new, inclusive ways to think about, discuss, and work towards positive change and development for a system that is already very successful and a system that is always looking for ways to be even better.

So when I wear orange next Monday and attend the school committee meeting to show solidarity to the many community members and educators looking for better processes and more inclusive decision making, I will think of this as a step towards betterment for all, a step towards modernizing our system in the inclusive, open minded ways possible. Onward.