March 11, 2014

Get Back Up Again

I have some amazing teachers, and even better I have some great conversations with them.  I don't know if all administrators take the time to really talk with their staff.  Not to their staff, but with them.  I'm not talking about standing in front of them and telling them about the next initiative or program that they will be undertaking.  I'm not talking about telling them about the budget, the latest policy or the recent data from state tests.  I mean sitting down with them and talking about what really matters to them.  Their opinions, their ideas, their passions, their fears, and their experiences.....these are the things they want to share with you.

Today I had one of those amazing conversations with my staff as we discussed creating the vision for our school and what we are all about.  But through this conversation, I discovered that the staff was feeling a sense of overwhelm from all of the initiatives and programs that had been implemented in the past few years.  Okay, I didn't really just discover that today.  I had realized this feeling a while ago, and even more honestly, who hasn't realized this about teachers. But, what was interesting was that they had shared that they were very frustrated by the lack of training they had been given in all of the initiatives and curricular programs they had taken on recently.  

Well, I can understand that. No one likes to feel unprepared, especially for a job they perceive as incredibly important and that comes with heavy scrutiny by outsiders.  Wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought teaching was incredibly important? But I digress, the point is, my staff felt as though they were thrown to the lions unprepared.  That they had been given a highly technical handbook and told to read through it and begin the next day.  I am not sure how accurate that feeling is to what was actually done, but I know that is how they feel.

Here is also what I know.  My staff is AWESOME!! I have been incredibly impressed with their knowledge and skill since I have come to my new district.  The expertise and knowledge in my buildings (I actually have 3) has truly impressed me and I give a great deal of credit to my predecessor and to my staff.  If they truly have not been given much in the way of training and professional development on the Daily 5, PBIS, Math Expressions, Common Core State Standards, PLCs, Curriculum Mapping, and more, then I am impressed with how well they have adapted and learned about these initiatives without much support.

That is not to say that they don't have things to work on.  We all do.  I know I do. As soon as we see ourselves as not needing to grow, then I think we need to take on the new job of improving our golf game or lawn care techniques, and the best time to do that is in retirement.  And the wonderful thing is, my staff has embraced that concept already.  They are learners.  But what I fear, and what I gathered from today's conversation, is that they don't see themselves as self-directed learners, or as the experts in the room.  They fear they don't have the knowledge or the skill set to teach themselves.  They know they can teach kids, but not themselves or their peers.  And the funny thing is..........they do already.  They have been doing it for a while.  They have taught themselves how to implement the Daily 5 framework into their reading and writing program. They have learned how to implement a PBIS program. They may have connected with other districts also doing this type of a program, they may have gone to a workshop to hear other stories of its implementation or its philosophy, but no one has come in and done extensive training with them.  They have trained themselves. Educated themselves.

The problem, I believe, is that they have begun to listen to the naysayers, the un-involved experts, the lounge-chair microphone hungry political planners that have said our teachers are falling short, and that we need to revamp the system.  They have lost sight of the fact that they are the experts within the system and that no one knows this game better than themselves.  Well.......I won't stand for it anymore. I am going Bobby Knight on them. We are going to become the best at what we do by sticking with the fundamentals, and fundamental #1 is that you have to believe in yourself!!! 

We will develop resilience in ourselves so that we can develop it in our students. We will try things and fail.  But, we will learn from them, get back up, and become even better. We will not fear the failure. We will not fear the mistakes, the things we don't know yet, the effort of learning or the courage of getting back up again. Because when you get right down to it, that is what learning is for kids every day, and I won't ask it of them if we don't ask it of ourselves.  And as I shared this expectation with my staff, you could see chins rise, eyes brighten, and cheeks become flush.....because they knew they could do all of this as well. Because they had done it all before. Yeah, they may think they haven't have been trained in many of the things they have learned how to do.......but that's only because they have forgotten to see themselves as some of the most qualified trainers available.  I can't wait to see where they will take themselves!!

Have I mentioned how impressed I am with my staff?


  1. Well written, Tom. I appreciate the sentiment behind it even though I am not part of your staff. Many educators feel this way!

  2. Your staff is lucky to have a leader thay opens the floor & transparently reflects on how to get better. Keep rockimg it TW!

  3. A very timely post Tom. I think as teachers we all make so many positive contributions to our students and communities. Imagine if we all wrote down what we do every day!!

  4. I think this is nearly a worldwide epidemic - lack of planning for growth through professional development. All the great conferences, unconferences, #Edcamps, digital and organic PLN's cannot help a school/district/state that does not have a plan for effective rollout and implementation. The trouble is, above school level often seem to forget the basic guidance on implementation where if you bring in a new initiative, you should take away an old one. It is not just that staffs and admin are dealing with 5 new programs, you still have those 10 old ones that are hanging around.
    The great part is as you write that we have so many positive and AWESOME staff members who make it all work. Thanks for the post.