Archive | February, 2017

Poetry, toxic cultures, being true, and YOU

20 Feb

The following is sort of an open letter to schools in transition and teachers so tired of constant improvement talk…so tired of it that they nod “yes” in meetings with no intention of contributing.

Thanks, in advance…

Part 1 Poetry
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

Related Poem Content Details

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I loved teaching this poem when I was in the classroom. Hope is always there, deep inside, singing to you even when you’re not listening. Hope is never not there for you. Hope is constant in all of us, regardless of the storm. We hope our day goes well. We hope our kids are well. We hope our family is well. We hope love and happiness warm our cheek. We hope the weather is nice. We hope our team wins. We hope for so many things, and yet, hope never asks anything from us. We never have to feed it, or sacrifice for it, or even thank it. Hope is always there when we need something.
Or, is it want? I think it’s time to have a talk about need vs. want in terms of improving our school. I think it’s time to reconsider each person’s responsibility in terms of contribution. Certainly, none of you “need” to feel the responsibility of school improvement is yours. Yet, I think you’d all agree that students “need” a good education which requires a high level of commitment to best practices. Certainly, not all of you “want” to contribute to school improvement. Yet, you’d all agree the school can’t improve if we’re not all contributing. So? What is this Mr. Lee is talking about?
We know what we “need” and we know what we “want”, yet we can’t seem to come to a collective agreement about actually doing it. What does that mean? Schools are no longer inspected on individual classrooms. We no longer work in private classrooms where we can lock out the bad habits of others around us. Schools are rated as organizations, as singular institutions. So, we cannot afford to behave as if that problem down the hall isn’t our concern. If it’s happening in our school, it’s our concern. We don’t feel a collective purpose right now. This lack of commitment to the stated collective purpose, this teaching in our own private bubbles, and not supporting each other is a mixture for a toxic school culture.
Part 2 Toxic Cultures
How does that work? Try to recall conversations from the last few staff meetings, or even sitting in the staff room, or standing at supervision. Who was the first to say something negative? You or your colleague? Then what was the next contribution? Did you agree and add on, or did you offer something positive or mention what works for you? When someone mentions “these kids”, what is your reaction? Do you agree and add on, or do you offer something positive? When someone mentions classroom discipline, do you mention what works for you or do you blame it on the kids, the supervisor, or administration?
You see, in a toxic culture, each person participating in it is an expert at describing how bad things are, and then deflecting the reasons why on someone or something else. “It’s the owners’ fault, they took anyone…it’s the Admin’s fault, they don’t do anything about it…it’s these kids, they’re spoiled…it’s tv, cell phones, music…” Finally, we all agree that we have described the problem accurately, and we have pinned it on someone or something else. This, my friends, is a toxic culture…and a failure of a conversation.
Part 3 Being True
What is your part in this? Are you participating in it? Are you contributing to a negativity that takes away from what we “want” and from what the students “need”? Do you say one thing to your colleagues and administrators in meetings, and then betray that information later? If so, you are contributing to the toxic culture, and in order for our students to get what they “need”, and for this school and your colleagues to get what they “want”, then you must consider one of two things:
                       1. Change your talk and contribute positively.
                       2. Resign, and stop holding the students and your colleagues back.
Yes, I’m serious. If you are unhappy and not changing any of what you’re doing, then what are you doing? There is no “hoping” things get better.
Either WE do it together, or it doesn’t get accomplished. In a healthy school, you cannot hide amongst your colleagues and contribute negatively, or nothing. A school is a collective that is judged as a singular organization. So, if one of us is a poor professional, that affects all of us. Casting blame at others in the building may make you feel better during that conversation, but it does absolutely no good for the school.
What is our collective purpose? Think for a second. What have we talked about? We “need” to move to the next level or we will lose this school. We have looked at what that takes. YOU are directly involved in improving this school. If you’re not, then please find a place where you can contribute. Social Scientist Dan Pink broke down what drives motivation into three needs (none of which are money, by the way). 1. Autonomy-the desire to direct your own life. What could be better? If you’re here and you feel trapped, or so stagnant you can’t change, then you are not autonomous, and you will not be motivated to work. What could be more autonomous than teaching? Yes, we have a curriculum, but you can teach it any way you like. Get creative, be autonomous with it. 2. Mastery-the ability to improve at something that matters every day. Teaching is the ultimate opportunity for mastery. You can learn and teach at the same time every darn day! If you haven’t changed your teaching methodology at all this year, then you aren’t practicing mastery…and, I’d bet you’re as bored as your students are. 3. Purpose-people want to be part of something bigger than them, something that really matters. Honestly, does this need any more explanation? What job has more purpose than teaching? If you don’t feel that way about teaching, you should step back and find what really does matter to you.
If these three don’t apply to you, are you being true to yourself? Are YOU giving yourself what YOU “need”? Are you being true to the students sitting in front of you every day? Are you giving them what they “need”, and what the school “wants”? Are you directing yourself (Autonomy)? Are you improving (Mastery)? Are you contributing to something bigger than yourself (Purpose)? Reread these questions. Go ahead, do it. Think about your answers. Are you being true to yourself, your colleagues, and to your profession, your school?
Part 4 YOU
Well…you made it. As a professional and a human, that’s a lot to think about. It’s good to have and acknowledge hope, but it’s just a pretty song, not an action. Take action! Are you a participant in making the culture toxic, or do you make people think twice when airing negativity or complaining? Rather than adding on to a complaint or deflecting blame, why not hold yourself accountable for a solution? Why not collect others who feel the same and create a solution? This is the very nature of  School Development Plan Teams. Be the solution, or stop getting in the way. It’s not right.
Lastly, YOU. Who are you in all of this? Can you step outside yourself and watch what you’re contributing with a sense of satisfaction? Are you the teacher you wanted to be? What’s holding you back? Are you being true and original? Do yourself a favor. Look in the mirror, look into your eyes, are you being true to you? If you “want” to have a good time teaching, what do you “need” to do?
As always, my door is open. I watch you very closely. It’s my job. Let’s talk.
Peace and love,
No CFU this time…though feedback is always welcome.