It seems like lots of new mandates have come my way in the past few weeks. These mandates sit on top of an already full list of have-to's in the school house and like the last wooden piece added on the Jenga game before it topples, the capacity is teetering.
When a system has too many leaders and not enough educators who work with students, problems occur. As I have written about time and time again, we lose capacity when there are too many people in schools distanced from students. When you have too many bosses and not enough people doing the day-to-day work in the classrooms, in the lunchroom, and on the playground, problems arise.
What's a teacher to do?
First, this brings me back to servant leadership which I feel is the best leadership model for service organizations like schools and perhaps any organization. When we work for those who we serve, we do our best work. On the other hand if we work solely for our own ambition and success, we lose capacity with regard to what we can do for those we serve. For example if a mandate is forwarded solely for a photo op or evaluation evidence, that mandate will create more havoc than success. On the other hand, when a mandate is forwarded with collaboration, good process, and solid aim, then that mandate or initiative has the capacity to uplift an entire community.
One of the most discouraging aspects of the many mandates at my teaching doorstep, is the fact that there's little lead time or collaboration involved in these mandates. They are layered on top without good process and with little lead time. Good planning is often missing with regard to these mandates which makes their last minute dictates onerous and oppressive.
What's a teacher to do?
I guess the best direction for me is to use this experience as one more opportunity to deepen my commitment to servant leadership -- to recognize just how deadly these last minute mandates feel, and to realize that students feel the same way when we don't work with them and for them, but forward our own priorities first. The children are the reason we teach and they should be the main focus of all of our efforts.
What does this mean in real time?
It means re-looking at the way time is used in school, and directing that time in ways that elevate the experience of school for children. Real time efforts in this regard include the following:
- Extra help sessions
- Active playground and social supports
- Engaging learning experiences
- Time for student presentation, conversation, debate, and teamwork
- Targeted, personalized supports
- Advocacy for what really matters at schools rather than structures that have little positive impact on student learning and success
This realization also reminds me to steer clear of ill-directed efforts, efforts that turn us away from the good work possible including senseless meetings, committees that go nowhere, demeaning initiatives, and ambition-driven photo ops.