There’s a reason for that straight line, miss.  Don’t cross over it and you’ll be fine.

So here’s my question:  do you cross the line, or not? What is your reasoning?  Is it valid?  Is it customary?  Can we paint over the line?  Drop it into a pot of boiling water so it bends and, like a spaghetti noodle, morphs into a curlique shape? Does the color of the line matter, or it the authority it represents something you believe in?

Systems evolve.  There are reasons, some valid, some customary.   Sometimes sytems change.  Outside factors can change the system, and the factors that define a system affect its legitimacy.

Me?  I’m the one out on the edges asking the questions, and wonderin why.  I hope you’ll join me on this journey of questioning policy and systems to ask those ‘what-if’ questions.  Welcome to my blog.



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  • SandyMerz

    Great Thought Model

    Thanks Marcia, for a great metaphor to mediate my thinking. Here are some initial thoughts, in no particular order of importance. How many times do we assume a line is there when there isn’t? I’ve heard cases of teacher leaders wanting to make a change and being told that it was against district policy. Then when they persue the policy the discover there’s no such thing – just custom. I think a lot of lines serve valuable protective roles and my be more guidelines than barriers, but are still useful. And not to be too negative, but I often think about the small percent of students who recognize that there are lines teachers won’t cross, but which they themselves don’t respect and have no problem saying or doing extremely inappropriate things. These are some of the hardest students to work with when they don’t have any intrisinic motivation to behave well or work hard, and neither fear any consequence nor desire any reward we can offer.  

  • MarciaPowell

    Custom and Metaphorical Boundary Lines


    Two great ideas for me to ponder , Sandy. Yes, I do find it frustrating that there are so many students. who cross lines inappropriately, but just as students cross lines inappropriately, the converse is true.  Poor systems can use that metaphoric line (a line of thinking, anyway) and accept, perhaps, that not all kids can learn.  And customary lines can frustrate students and  teacher leaders. Custom isn’t canon, but we sometimes forget that, regardless of the position we have, because they don’t think of consequences to the request.  For example, schools often require line basics as quickly as kindergarten, not really thinking through the gross motor control issues or ADD possible struggles that can make it difficult to keep hands to self, not wiggle, or other things.

    I think I’m trying to figure out the purpose of the lines in so many systems.  Guidelines, for example, imply that there is wiggle room based on judgment; professional licenses are a line that we believe assigns competence to the actions of another.   One thing is for sure:  teaching lines are seldom that shortest distance between two points, as we weave and dip to try to draw the circle as wide as possible to include all learners.


  • benowens

    Lines & Leadership

    Thanks, Marcia, for such a thoughtful and poetic introduction! As someone who got in big trouble in kindergarten for blatantly coloring outside of the lines (much to the joy of my father, an Art Professor), I must admit that I generally work hard to operate within the customary rules, procedures, and protocols that have been accepted by whatever entity under which I am working at the time – my “lines.” But before I am painted as a lemming, who blindly conforms to keep from making waves, know that I also work hard to question why we do what we do and then work to change it in cases where it makes no sense.

    This approach comes pretty naturally to me, given that in my previous career in chemical manufacturing plants, not following the rules could mean someone would get seriously injured or we could cause considerable environmental damage. Not a good thing! But I also think in my new career as an educator, I need to consistently model to my students how to respect and operate within the rules, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. When they see me do that and at the same time, work hard to challenge the status quo by asking hard questions and not accepting “we just always done it that way” as an answer, they learn that one can “stay within the lines,” while also taking a leadership role in bending the arc of those lines for the greater good.

    Are there exceptions to this approach? Sure. If Rosa Parks had followed the rules in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott may not have occurred when it did and progress in the Civil Rights Movement may have been delayed for months or years. And yet you also have another Alabama example where Chief Justice Roy Moore is currently thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court for what he deems as a justifiable cause.

    Mike Myatt recently wrote in Forbes magazine that you were not a leader if “you follow the rules instead of breaking them.” I appreciate what he is saying on face value, but feel that it’s too simplistic. If we consistently ignore or break the rules without pointing out why they are wrong, we ultimately blur the lines that do make sense and are critical to our being able to function effectively. This then leads to an ambiguity of lines that Sandy referred to in his comment (what Rick Hess calls the “cage” in his book The Cage Busting Teacher).  

    A real leader, in my view, is the one who is highly effective within the lines and yet continuously challenges the status quo of those lines. One who clearly understands what new lines are needed and is working relentlessly to make those new lines a reality.