Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Helpful or Not Helpful?

My grade-level colleagues are tremendously helpful. They are always there to do the work that makes our team teaching successful. This is awesome! Yet there are others that work with us and support us that are less helpful. What creates the distinction between helpful and not helpful?

Those that are helpful seem to truly understand a teacher's job--they understand the minute-to-minute decision making and time-on-task that makes up our days, and they also understand how much work goes into the job before the school day and after. These helpers tend to be active educators too--people who understand what it takes to teach well. Those who are less helpful are typically removed from the day-to-day teaching work--they often are sequestered in offices or homes distanced from the busyness that is school and that's why their supports are often distanced and less relative to the day-to-day work we do in classrooms and with students regularly.

In the worst case scenarios, these helpers who offer advice and support have little real impact on the quality of school. Their suggestions and efforts to help are met with smiles and pleasant replies, but are rarely implemented or helpful when it comes to what we do in school day after day. In less distressing situations, these helpers may offer a bit of positive support here and there, but nowhere near the kind of help educators who are working with students day after day offer--their distance from children creates situations that make them unaware of what really is going on or what really is needed.

So what's a teacher to do when surrounded by helpers that offer little help and are often more work than the help they supposedly provide?

The first step is to avoid these "helpers" as much as possible since their "help" is actually often more work than it's worth to spend time with with them. The next step is to listen to the ideas and what's available, and receive that help when it is truly helpful. For example sometimes these helpers provide access to resources, events, and time that a teacher would not have otherwise--by working with these "helpers," teachers can access positive supports that do help them to teach better. And, of course, it's critical that educators advocate for system structural change so that most staff in a school are truly making a difference and using their time wisely in ways that really do elevate what we can do with and for children.

In good schools, system leadership and educators work regularly together to discuss, choose, and support initiatives, resources, and other supports to build capacity and better the work we do for students and their families. When "helpers" are distanced too often and too much from the work with students, a great divide is created, a divide that does little to support what's truly possible when it comes to teaching students well. When helpers have a lot to say about what we do with students, but little to no real time interaction or positive efforts with students or educators, there is an unhelpful divide here, one that does not serve to empower our work well, but instead often acts as an anchor with regard to development, inspiration, and good work.

I believe it's integral that schools embrace a servant leadership model where all work to serve the mission which is the students and families we teach. To do that well means that we have to serve each other too. When only some are relegated to doing the work with and for students, and too many are given positions of helpers who advise, but don't get in there to work with and know children and educators, schools don't achieve the goals possible. I think that many school organizations can do better in this regard.