What You Want is Not What You Plan

I drove by the building that housed my dream job today.
Long ago, as a young girl, age 7, I wanted to work there.
I imagined being part of the change.
Making decisions that made things better.
And I daydreamed, even then, schools that were different.
And I thought that meant that it was about the leaders.
That was my plan.  Boy, was it a good one.

When I first taught in the classroom.
The bar was moved, and it focused on me.
From Madeline Hunter to new content.
Through climate and teaching skills and relationships and PLCs.
Again, the plan was to make things better.
But instead, it was just different.
I still didn’t know what was missing.

I became a teacher leader.
Not at once, but gradually.
Patience and time wear down the roughness of new leaders.
And give us grace to reflect on what works.
Or doesn’t, with colleagues or leaders-of-the-pack.
I even took time to administrate, thinking that would help.

Now I’m back in the classroom.
Still a teacher leader.
And I thought about that first childhood dream.
I used to think that wisdom came from above.
But now I know that changes comes right where I am.
And that making a difference comes from letting go of the plan.
And just working for the change by gathering voice.
Which is absolutely what I wanted.
To make a difference.










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  • Shannon Cde Baca

    Me too!

    I am convinced that all lasting educational change begins with and is sustained by classroom teachers. I know policy dictates structures but those that support the complex work we do can help. The rest are speed bumps and road blocks. Somewhere schools lost sight of the key reasons we have them. Central offices became well carpeted policy factories (that were held up as destinations if you rose in the ranks) and schools became compliance focused. Kids and their achievement took a hit. But, always in the mind of teachers I taught beside the kids came first. 

    I did the paperwork, fought battles over policies that made no sense, did more paperwork, fought schedules that were crazy, lived through class sizes that made my classroom look like a rush hour subway car, bought my own lab equipment and supplies, watched a central office grow to a population that needed its own zip code while I fixed my plumbing with duct tape and super glue and kept focused on the students. I thought maybe I need to change roles to make this system better.

    Many teachers who were skilled in reaching kids were recruited out of the classrooms to make policy and assume leadership roles. That was held as the definition of success. I wonder if these folks could have stayed in the classroom, at least part time, how that would have changed the landscape of schools today? I think the impact would have been deep and systemic.

    Policy would have been more supportive of instruction, data gathering might have stolen less instructional time, classrooms might have been priorities for maintenance, leadership would have a closer connection to parents and students, we all would be able to ground our discussions with real student work and the whole team would be pulling in the same direction.

    There is one more much more profound impact of leaders who teach. I was one of those folks. I could close my classroom door and make a change then see the impact in real time. I did not need decades of data and a false reliance on voices who had a vested interest in the success or failure of the innovation. I had daily contact with students who showed me in unvarnished fashion what was helpful and what was not.

    Marsha, I watched you in both roles. You convinced me at a deeper level that it is not the dream that teachers have to have a deeper systemic influence on schools that is flawed. It is the idea that you have to choose to teach or to lead. You do both and education in Iowa is better for that.