I’d been meaning to get back to a comment that Mike left me last weekend on my Pavlovian post. He wrote:
My little aphorism for new teachers is that when it comes to understanding and properly responding to the daily concerns and needs of classroom teachers and their students, principals, even principals who really want to be supportive of teachers, are essentially beings from another planet. Central office administrators are from another galaxy; state educrats are from another universe and federal educrats are, at best, an utterly unfathomable form of life (perhaps) from another dimension.
Anyone who has worked in schools for long enough can relate to Mike’s sentiments, that’s for sure! As a pretty accomplished teacher, I’ve always struggled to accept decisions made by those beyond the classroom without question. Far too often, a school’s direction is set with little input from those who work closest to the children—and as a result, policies and practices in all but the most successful schools and systems are underinformed at best and just plain ineffective at worst.
But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m convinced that our profession is plagued by too much chest thumping and too little action. We’re quick to point out every flaw in our leaders but we do little to try to assert more influence over decisions. We shun committee work, do little to understand the change process in organizations that are based on human interaction, and fail to raise awareness about work beyond the classroom door.
Decades of this inactivity (apathy?) has earned us a place in the corner when it comes to school reform. No one seeks our opinion because we haven’t proven that we can be articulate and well-informed advocates. One of my favorite phrases is, “We have to make empowerment less risky and more rewarding before decisions will move from the principal’s office to the classroom door.”
That takes concentrated effort to stay “tuned-in” to trends in education and to build background knowledge on topics that fall outside of our day-to-day work. With background knowledge comes credibilty—and with credibility comes opportunity. We’ll be “heard” far more when those “above” us recognize our ability to bridge classroom expertise with an understanding of what’s possible at the school, district and state level.