Sometimes, even though we don’t want to admit it, as leaders we’ve been away from the “action” too long. Obviously, we are still in education so we are not that far removed. However, without intentionally staying connected to the realities of the classroom, we run the risk of being out of touch with what is actually happening. And that can have a serious impact on the quality of our work.
Going into this school year, I decided to focus all of my summer professional learning on the demands that teachers face each day. I attended 14 hours of core content driven PD sessions that my district offered. I sat in sessions with a nameplate that simply stated Ashley M.; no title or last name was given. I wanted an authentic experience and to see the teachers’ natural reactions to what was being asked of them. I learned a TON about how different the classroom is since I left (and that wasn’t that long ago). I’ve only been removed the classroom for six years, and from campus support for two. My, what a different landscape it truly is! I wish more of our leaders would make the time to have these experiences because they undoubtedly have an impact on the expectations that we have of our teachers and staff.
Too often, we hear about changes being in how a room is arranged. We know that the days of students seated in perfect rows facing forward are long gone…or at least they should be. We know that flexible seating is taking over, and that students learn in a variety of different ways. What we don’t hear enough about is how the culture of today’s classroom environment has shifted. And when we start to understand the cultural shifts, that when we begin to get to the tip of the iceberg regarding the transformative practices that should be taking place.
As I sat through my first day of teacher professional development, two things were evident to me. The first, being that as an educational leader, your presence matters to those you support. The second big aha moment for me was that there is a horrible trend of miscommunication in K-12 systems. In this case, a small amount of effort truly went a really long way. I was able to connect with these educators from a place of trust and transparency. Let me explain.
At the end of each of my sessions, as people started talking and probing more, I decided to reveal my title/position. You would’ve thought I was on an episode of Undercover Boss. The teachers I encountered were so appreciative of the fact that I made time in my schedule to learn along side of them. There were even two teachers who specifically spoke about the lack of leadership presence in our summer professional development sessions. They expressed their frustrations and the fact that they feel like often times their administrators don’t know enough to properly evaluate them each year because they don’t stay current with what is happening with curriculum.
While participating in these sessions, I also realized how deep the communication divide has become. As leaders, we have to stay connected so that we can build a bridge across the communication divide. There were so many differing stories of what messages that were relayed from central office to campus specialists to teaching staff. There was also an overwhelming number of inaccuracies in teachers repeating what was represented to them in terms of district expectations. Additionally, there was a gaping disconnect between what teachers are doing and what we are asking them to do. It was almost as if maybe the people making the decisions were quite aware of just how much has changed.
I don’t share my experience to put anyone else on the spot or to make people defensive. I share my experience so that we can all learn from them together. After all, every great educator should be a lifelong learner! And that’s the purpose of my blog, of sharing my story. If we can learn from each other’s experiences, imagine the collective greatness that could result. Maybe we really can change education, thereby changing the world (which is why we all became teachers anyway, right?).
I leave you with this. Stay relevant. Stay connected. If you don’t intentionally make the time to do so, you’ll never do it. You will always be too busy. There will always be something else that needs to be done. But our teachers need us to make the time. And Our students need us to make the time. We can’t afford not to. So take a moment before you close this page, look at your schedule for tomorrow or even next week, and make the time. I promise it’s worth it.