What I Recently Learned From Goldilocks and The Three Bears

Teacher leaders can find renewed hope in the old tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

No doubt you are familiar with the childhood tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

It begins with Goldilocks venturing away from home to an unknown place. What’s not clear in the story is why we find her wandering around alone in the forest.

Regardless, as the story goes there is a little fair-haired protagonist who unknowingly hazards a den belonging to a family of bears, natural flesh-eating antagonists. However, the storyteller’s personification of the bears makes it highly unlikely that Goldy will be exchanged for the porridge.

Recently, as I reread this story with my youngest granddaughter Callie, I gained new insight.

Perhaps the author’s purpose was more than entertaining children with the fantasy of talking domesticated bears. Perhaps it was to encourage taking risks, making leaps of faith. Life experiences often require leaps where the outcomes are not guaranteed.  Sometimes the result is overwhelming–simply too much at times to bear (no pun intended). At other times the outcome feels inadequate, doesn’t resemble our expectations. But, other times…boy, there are times when the outcome is worth the leap into the unknown.

Which just happens to aptly describe my experience when last month I leapt into the unknown, and invited Arizona State Representative Doug Coleman to spend a morning at my school, Highland Junior High, in Mesa. The invitation was extended as a part of  TYLTS (Take Your Legislator to School) week, a new statewide event that fosters meaningful and collaborative interactions between educators and their school’s legislative representatives.

Representative Cole spent the first two hours visiting several classrooms: English, social studies, science, mathematics, physical education and band. During the last hour, over lunch, we learned that he is a veteran teacher of 31 years who began his political career as a community activist.  He freely talked about the inequities that galvanized his move from education to politics in order to make things better.  He was also talked about policies around education issues and ways teachers can be more informed about the process.

My principal and I intended for this visit to be enlightening and authentic, not a three-hour show. We did not invite the press, although there is nothing wrong in this, and we may consider this option in the future. But for this very first meeting we intentionally avoided potential distractions or barriers that would make it difficult for us to get to know the man (not the position) who represents our school district. Still, we were not certain that three hours would be enough, but it was all we had.

We learned that if a visit is planned with the single focus for educators and policy makers to begin the process of understanding each other, three hours is just right.

In “Salt and Watermelon” I advocated for educators to build good working relationships with policy makers, based on my personal experience at an NCSL (National Conference of State Legislators) convening, described in the article. But planning such an opportunity for my school district and community was a huge unknown for me, and carried more risks than I could imagine, not the least of which is being misunderstood to promote one political candidate over another. Elections are in November.

Furthermore, as a member of the planning committee for TYLTS I knew we had no control over the outcome for any of the teachers, another even larger unknown. The best we could do is to identify teacher leaders who could and would embrace this chance to make a difference, and equip them to create positive, successful connections. The process of identifying and equipping took several months.

This summer, just before the launch of TYLTS, we encouraged teacher leaders to view this initial visit as the beginning of a marathon-like experience, rather than a sprint. It takes time, perseverance, mutual trust and some knowledge of edpolicy to build constructive working relationships that lead to meaningful and lasting change in teaching and learning.

Teacher leaders then, must think strategically about achievable outcomes for the initial visit with legislators or any other stakeholders.

Outcomes varied across the state. In a meeting later this month, the TYLTS committee will plan next steps based on what we have learned so far, and what we gather from teachers leaders. But from initial reports, some teachers enjoyed daylong events with their legislators, while others like me planned shorter and yet still impactful experiences.  A few policy-makers flat out refused invitations from teachers, while others visited schools for barely 20-minutes with the expressed thought, “I know all I need to know about education. Thank you very much.”

Nevertheless, TYLTS overall proved to be a great first step toward building partnerships, ones that both groups appear to want to maintain and strengthen. Indeed, I look forward to an opportunity for Representative Coleman to speak to my 8th grade students. I plan to seek his expert advice on the importance of framing messages to fit the needs of the target audience. I expect that his input will increase my students’ engagement as well as achievement, when they unfurl their campaigns next semester.

Taking risks, making leaps of faith provide no guarantees.  However, if we “seek first to understand, then to be understood” we can venture forth into unfamiliar experiences with a mindset much like Goldilocks’. She knew first hand that sometimes the result can be overwhelming, sometimes it can very disappointing. But sometimes, “it’s just right.” And that makes all the difference in the world.

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  • marylynch

    TYLTS

    As Cheryl knows, I also hosted a state representative – Representative Kelly Townsend.  She arrived with a positive attitude, became totally involved in my language arts class.  I invited her to view a science STEM class which she immediately became intrigued.  Students were creating hand prostesis.  After seeing their innovative attempts at accomplishing this she made plans to return to our school to view the finished product.  After getting a quick pass through of our amazing library, Rep Townsend was amazed to hear that we no longer have AR program – which she knows does promote reading.  Overall, it was a wonderful experience for me, Rep Townsend, and our students.  A initiative that was very positive.

    • Anonymous

      Great Review!

      Mary- thanks so much for sharing your experience. It provides balance for this story. I hope to get with you later this week tl learn more for an follow up piece on TYLTS that includes other teacher leaders’ experiences as well.  See you then, my friend!

  • BriannaCrowley

    Fascinating!

    Cheryl, 

    Thanks so much for sharing this process and your reflection publically. I had no idea about this incredible initiative you are helping to lead in AZ. I want to know more!

    You said

    The process of identifying and equipping took several months.

    Have you already written about this process in previous posts that I just missed? Or could it be future posts? 

    I would love to know more about how you became involved in or had the idea for TYLTS. It is SUCH crucial work. 

    • CherylRedfield

      The Process

      It’s interesting you should ask about the process.  I’m currently writing about how Arizona teacher leaders and other stakeholders banded together to launch TYLYS as well as ECET2-Arizona– both within a week of each other!  Sandy Merz did a great job of reviewing the resurgence of teacher leadership power that’s sweeping through our state– posted here on CTQ (see “Arizona Rocks Teacher Leadership”).  It is so well done that there’s no need to duplicate it on this platform.  But TLs in AZ need to take a moment to recognize and nuture the emergence of hope in our state So, my piece will focus only on the two events above, which were born out of an action research mentality and serve as amazing models of the power of cross-stakeholder collaborations. I discuss this idea in an earlier CTQ post, “Cultivate a Calling”.

      The article I’m currently writing will appear at the blog site “Stories from School: Arizona” at the end of this week. It doesn’t have a name yet. Maybe you can help me with that? 😉

  • JustinMinkel

    Partnerships go both ways

    Cheryl, I often find myself–like most teachers–working for teachers to gain access to those “Halls of Power” where decisions that shape our classrooms are made: State Boards of Ed, Departments of Ed, legislatures. But this post is a powerful reminder that we also need to extend the reciprocal invitation and invite them to come and see “the good, the bad, and the ugly”–but often mostly good–that is happening in schools right now, not what they remember from when they were in school or what the current media narrative about public schools might be.

    It takes courage, especially when, as you point out, it’s not a show but an authentic snapshot of what’s happening in your professional home on that day. But relationships are reciprocal by definition, and we need more partnerships with policymakers and legislators. Bravo, my friend.