Earlier this week, I listened to a keynote address by #edugladiator Marlena Gross-Taylor about the need for teachers to follow their instincts and do what’s right for our nation’s most important resource: kids. During her presentation, this slide popped up:
Have I produced leaders? I didn’t know how to answer this question. If I have, it certainly wasn’t by intention. Through most of my career, my ideal teaching situation has been being in schools where I’m allowed the autonomy to be queen of my domain and no one interferes.
This graphic struck home. How do I encourage colleagues in my own school? Or more importantly, challenge them to do better? How often do I have conversations about teaching and innovation with others? Inside my core teaching group, I’d answer “often.” Outside my core group? Seldom.
I never articulated why until now, but I know what my excuses would be. It’s a different department. Or I don’t know them very well. Or their subject very well. Or they’re busy, or I’m busy.
And how many times have I eaten lunch in the teacher’s lounge where I could be broaching deeper discussions about teaching rather than complaining about admin decisions or student problems?
Instead of making excuses, blaming my exhaustion or introversion, I need to focus on making my colleagues better teachers. No, WE need to do this — to make each other better teachers and leaders for our students and our world. Just as importantly, we need to step outside our school walls and push our colleagues in other schools and communities to do the same.
Ditch the excuses.
Here are some of the excuses that need to go:
I don’t have anything to share. If you’ve taught for one or twenty-one years, you’ve got something to share. You’ve had experiences unique to anyone else, and you’ve found success or failure at a student interaction or classroom technique that someone else hasn’t found yet. SHARE IT. Talk about it at lunch. Write it on a blog. Post it on Twitter.
Not sharing our teaching experiences robs the rest of us. What can be gained by sharing classroom experiences? Only the good. Good advice, good feedback, good ideas, good mistakes that we will never do again. By sharing, others can benefit from your experience and apply it to their own teaching.
I don’t have it all figured out. This connects to the previous excuse. I used it for a long time, telling myself, Who am I to post this blog or present at that conference? Others know far more than I do. I’m still figuring it out. I’ve learned that even the best rock-star teachers are still “figuring it out.” It never stops. And that’s the beauty of teaching — we can evolve through our entire careers and there will always be some part of our teaching to innovate and improve. Because if there wasn’t, how dull our teacher lives would become. So you don’t have to have it all figured out. Share it anyway.
My colleagues won’t be interested. Or I’ll be ridiculed. Here’s a promise: there will be a colleague who won’t be interested. He or she might even ridicule you and your “new fandangled ways of school.” The easy response is ignore them, but it’s hard. Instead, focus on those who are open to listening and opening conversation lines about innovating schools. This may also mean going beyond the safety of your walls and approaching new people on Twitter or at conferences. Some colleagues won’t be interested, but there will be far more that will be.
I’m introverted. I’m not good at sharing ideas with people I’m uncomfortable with. Guess what? Me either. However, that’s not a viable excuse. We have to simply do it, go out there, shake hands, introduce ourselves at conferences, and share our ideas about education. If we don’t overcome our fear, who will suffer? Not us. Our students will.
Each new school year, speakers and consultants and administrators and teachers all buzz about “what’s right for kids” and “taking risks” and “being innovative.” But we’re not going to be able to do this — to truly do this — until we build more leaders around us.
It’s time to start. I’m all in.