Dialogue as an Act of Defiance and Love

Teachers hold the most power in a classroom.

They set the course for student learning, guided by the power of principals, who are guided by standards set far from children in state departments of education, by researchers, policymakers, and “interested” stakeholders. The farther you get from the learning, the more non-people of color are involved and the more power fewer people have. The conversation is limited from the beginning. The power structure is a pyramid with all of the influence at the top and all of the weight distributed down on the child. I have seen school leaders who understood this and took it upon themselves to take the position of Atlas, holding up the world, in order for teachers to have the space to care for children. These leaders have called out to parents, community, higher education, and social service partners,  “Help me hold it up.” When they were successful eventually the teachers and the students became so convinced they were safe that they forgot about the pyramid. The limits were removed. I have also seen principals who hold the weight they carry over the heads of teachers and students. They make statements that echo the theme, “Comply or I will drop the weight.” We often forget the influence of power in the classroom, in the school, in the community. But, if you become aware of this imbalance, a different kind of educational leadership is necessary. No one can be Atlas forever and when those heroic, but individual leaders move on, what happens?

This is one reason why I follow the work of EduColor and Jose Vilson so closely. He and the organization he helped to found are proactively engaging in a dialogue about one of the most taboo of topics in education, power. People with a concern for the intersection of freedom and education might say that there is always an imbalance of power in every relationship. Others, specifically EduColor and its participants, seem to disagree by asking questions like, “Who holds the power in this situation?  Whose interests are being protected? Are there concerns that aren’t being discussed at the table just because of who set the table?” These questions are playing themselves out again and again on our TVs, on our social media, at our dinner tables. Never before have I known the names of murdered African Americans as if they lived in my city, went to schools where I taught, lived down the street from me. I am a shaken. What EduColor is bringing to the conversation is more than the limiting dialogue of the two-way conversation between the decision makers and the affected. They are bringing love and humility to the conversation to establish the horizontal relationship that Friere describes as dialogue in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

 

Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between dialoguers is the logical consequence. It would be a contradiction in terms if dialogue—loving, humble, and full of faith—did not produce this climate of mutual trust, which leads the dialoguers into ever closer partnership in the naming of the world. (p. 80)

I know that as white male, I represent the pyramid. History, society, the media, all confirm that the pyramid was designed by people who look like me. That doesn’t mean I must affirm the imbalance of power. I can name the imbalances and ask questions that destabilize the status quo. I have never seen power as a zero-sum situation. This is how I have found success, in nuturing my students and their families. As an educational leader I stand in a very particular place. I can see the pyramid, I can see the students, I can see the families. I have moved across spatial and cultural boundaries for years in an effort to serve my community. I have a keen interest in the intersection of freedom and education. I believe education needs a new kind of leadership, one that leads from the middle, not from the top. Our students, our communities, our teachers have their own merits, powers, and intelligences. I believe leadership must be a dialogue led with humility, faith in humankind, hope, and critical thinking, but mostly with love.

  • Amelia Espiel Radores

    I agree with you John that

    I agree with you John that leading a learning institution could really be quite tough and a challenge and that humility and faith in the education service were values so needed in leading your flock of educators, students, parents  and the entire system as a whole. But along with these values, teamwork within the system can also be an efficient factor in achieving the goals of education. By creating an atmosphere of active participation by everyone towards a common goal could be a sound move. We need not focus on a certain section in the pyramid if ALL can work for the better. Anybody who took the leadership must carry everybody as a team, as a whole. It maybe quite a challenge but is never impossible and improbable. UNITY is a virtue in achieving a common goal where everyone try to lead ans excel and contribute to the building of the education pyramid. It is better that ALL represent the achievement instead of just a few.

  • Amelia Espiel Radores

    I agree with you John that

    I agree with you John that leading a learning institution could really be quite tough and a challenge and that humility and faith in the education service were values so needed in leading your flock of educators, students, parents  and the entire system as a whole. But along with these values, teamwork within the system can also be an efficient factor in achieving the goals of education. By creating an atmosphere of active participation by everyone towards a common goal could be a sound move. We need not focus on a certain section in the pyramid if ALL can work for the better. Anybody who took the leadership must carry everybody as a team, as a whole. It maybe quite a challenge but is never impossible and improbable. UNITY is a virtue in achieving a common goal where everyone try to lead ans excel and contribute to the building of the education pyramid. It is better that ALL represent the achievement instead of just a few.

  • akrafel

    Real Power

    The real power in a classroom is in the sacred space between the soul of a student and the soul of the teacher.  Thank you for saying that the real Atlas is the power of love.  I am trying to help change the world into a place that nourishes all life.  The place where I can do this the most is when I, teacher, make contact with the child who is my student.  I can make a difference in the life of a child in the tone of my voice, the light in my eyes, the value I place on their thoughts and emotions. The Atlas’s that carve out space for teachers to do what they do best, which is to love kids, are doing important work. We are caught up in an epic struggle between elite power and the rest of us. Teachers are leaving the profession because the space to meet soul to soul in the classroom is being squashed. It takes incredible courage to stay. The place I have decided to put my energy is in creating space for teacher power to bloom in all its wonderful ways in as many nooks and crannies as I can find. I have helped create a teacher-powered school and the place is filled with love. It is small, but it is there as a testiment to what teachers can do when they find the power to do it. Teachers gaining power wherever they can find it, nourishing each other along the way, doing everything they can to protect the child in front of them is the key to real change. Couragous administrators who hold off the weight are allies, we need more of them.  What else can we do in this conflict other than to hold up what we can?  It is love that grants this energy. Thank you for saying it.

  • Mary Ann

    German

    My bottom line always remained "what is best for the students," and not what is best for me or for the administrators who with the exception of one wonderful example, had no vested interest in others but only in themselves.  With all the helicopter parents in the world, I am not optimistic of future leaders; therefore, I the classroom teacher will close my door and do what's best for my students – no matter what!  If I don't stand up for them, who will?

    • MichaelReese

      I love the sentiment of your

      I love the sentiment of your comment.  It is absolutely essential that the students’ benefit is the most prominent consideration in all decisions.  However, I am a little troubled by the teacher vs. the world perspective conveyed by the second half of the comment.  The isolationist approach of only worrying about one’s own classroom is unlikely to have any sort of systemic impact.  No progress is achieved by neglecting relationships.  Although it is difficult to see sometimes, I believe that most administrators have good intentions most of the time, perhaps they just lack a level of hands-on experience to inform their decisions – creating a poor outward image.  In this sort of environment, the last thing you want to do is close your door.  As teachers we should work with administrators, not against them.  When we are willing to invest our time and energy into creating schools that operate organically and as a unit I believe we will be much happier with the outcome.

  • Serina

    As long as it is done right,

    As long as it is done right, than physical restraining is necessaery I think. Assignment Doer – Help with Assignments It sounds like he could use a special class that helps him learn to see school as a good thing. Open communication between you and the school is a must.

  • MichaelReese

    Inverting the Pyramid

    I am a pre-service teacher who is currently taking a course entitled Teacher to Leader that looks at the concept of being a leader in education at various levels.  Obviously there is a level of leadership in the classroom, but the course is much for focused on the leadership involved in teacher-to-teacher relationships, administration and policy.  One of the main premises is that we should involve excellent teachers in decision making outside of the classroom. This seems directly related to the inversion of the pyramid stucture of power.  When we empower teachers (who have the closest and most consistent interactions with students) we are relieving the burden from administrators and receiving input from those on the “front lines.”  Often when standards are set at the state level, there are clear goals but no understanding of context – THAT is what teachers provide.  The imbalance of power and struggles facing administrators, teachers and students alike are representative of systematic shortcomings at all levels – many of them are disconnected from education.  In the US, we generally celebrate a democractic process and the wide dispersal of power – when we apply these same principles to education we create a system that includes many more perspectives in the decision making process and consequently create more informed environments for our students.

    • JohnHolland

      Involved

      If more teachers were involved from the beginning then more policies would yield intended results IMHO.

  • KirstenJones

    Love and Leadership

    Hi! I am a Preservice teacher, so I am not yet involved in the classroom. As I looked over the original post by John Holland and the article he provided Hope and the Teacher, I had a few questions.

    I agree that currently power is lastly weighed on the students, making the school system less for the learners, but more for the higher ups, which depends. In a school alone, the higher ups would be the principal. The principal in some cases take up the role of Atlas. Atlas was the titan from Greek mythology who was punished by holding the world on his shoulders. In my opinion, no one should hold that role on their own. Maybe a teacher could lead, but the faculty as a whole would carry the weight together. “No one can be Atlas forever,” as Holland states. The most interesting point he made though, was the power of love.

    Connecting with that thought process, I found this article with some quotes that solidified by opinion leading to my questions. Why We Need Teacher Leadership by Doyle Nicholson states “As a teacher, so much of what I do revolves around the relationship and trust that I build with my students.” He also brings up the shared role of leadership. “School systems need to find ways to create hybrid leadership roles in which teachers can be in the classroom part of the time, but also engage in instructional coaching or shared leadership the rest of the day or week.”

    The questions I have are:

    1. How do teacher leaders be effective if they are limited, mainly speaking of elementary teachers who have it harder to be involved outside of class?

    2. What do you think is the best way to share the role of leadership under the pyramid as Atlas was expected to do alone?

    In argument, would it be better for students if the role was solitary-only one teacher/principal? Having more teachers solely focus on teaching instead of holding a co-role of leadership?

    3. Lastly, is the love of the actual student success a bigger factor than the love of the possibilities for student success in involving oneself in teacher leadership? Or is it even centered on students as all these articles suggest?

  • JohnHolland

    Replies if Possible

    Hi Kirsten

    Trying to provide some insight if not answers to your questions.

    1. How do teacher leaders be effective if they are limited, mainly speaking of elementary teachers who have it harder to be involved outside of class?

    The first step is to form some alliances wether in your physical school or here in the collabratory or in a similar space. Then start to have have socratic style conversations about what is possible. In my case I formed a great partnership with come colleagues. Most of these relationships are built in between times, in the hallway, the gaps between school and staff meeting, or on facebook. Once that relationship is established it is a simple step to start collaborating on projects that disrupt the status quo or support the dominant vision for school success. The key is those in between times though.

    2. What do you think is the best way to share the role of leadership under the pyramid as Atlas was expected to do alone?

    In argument, would it be better for students if the role was solitary-only one teacher/principal? Having more teachers solely focus on teaching instead of holding a co-role of leadership?

    I don’ t want to be principal. But, I do want to lead. Realizing my limits I have decided to work collaboratively with my peers. As you may find, teachers are never “just a teacher” focused on teaching. The messiness of the school environment makes isolated teaching impossible. If you are isolated you may not be supporting your peers and that is when that isolation becomes self centered teaching. I beleive that the community inside and out of the school should bear the weight of respponsibility.

     

    3. Lastly, is the love of the actual student success a bigger factor than the love of the possibilities for student success in involving oneself in teacher leadership? Or is it even centered on students as all these articles suggest?

    Not sure I understand this question. Sorry.

     

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    Leading

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    Re: Dialogue as an Act

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  • Riley

    Education

    Rather than telling your son to say a teacher is wrong with all respect which is the biggest load of crap, perhaps you should teach your son to actually respect teachers which you obviously don’t and do what he needs to do to get through schools. Assignment Writing Help UK