Teacher Leadership Lessons from Standing Rock

Sunday, the DAPL project was dealt a blow when the Army Corps of Engineers did not grant the easement necessary to allow the pipeline to continue across sacred grounds.  That’s a wonderful start, and got me thinking about teacher leadership and the lessons that could be learned.

1. Power of the people as community .  The people of Standing Rock were not movie stars, or people with money. They were ordinary people who wanted to make a difference in the space in which and protect resources for future generations.  They had a clear, simple message everyone listened and spoke about:  Water is Life.  And there was a spectra of ages in the representative body, from young to old.  Unity, however, is a powerful thing, and can withstand attempts to weaken public education.  How do we get all those representative voices into our school community regularly, and onboard with a simple message?

2.  Get your message out.  The Oceti Sakowin group understood how to use media effectively, and reached out to networks of myriad individuals, including clergy members, community members, social justice advocates, the independent press, and youtube.  The momentum for stopping DAPL has come from multiple sources, letters to the President and the backing of veterans who came into the camp to stand together.  Today, our choices are not limited to one media option or one group of stakeholders, but in the next years, it will be critical to come together to build community and find voices to help share the value of public education. Just like Standing Rock, equity needs a voice. 

3.  Give it time.  The Sioux nation has been at the site of their protest for months.  It takes time to build consensus, relationships, and learn to navigate a maze of paperwork, regulations, and proposals.  Teachers do this regularly, but take heart, the time you invest means something.  The end goal: empowering students means giving them skills in critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving.

4.  Celebrate Your Courage .  What really helped to push the network over the top was the shift in public perception about DAPL.  It was not without risk.  Rubber bullets, freezing water cannons, camping in frigid temperatures and standing up to power never is easy.  Non-violent resistance focused on leveraging ideas never has been, and is not likely to get easier in the short-term when we discuss the disruptive possibilities of teacher-powered education.  The Sioux people were able to celebrate yesterday, but that does not mean the cause is won.  They are staying put, at least for now, as they wait in uncertainty for what will happen with a change in administration.  Will treaties still be honored? That’s about as certain as next year’s test scores, or funding budget.

But one thing is for sure:  democracy has never been a spectator sport, and the time to remain diligent is now, and each day.  That’s a lesson worth remembering.