This past weekend I went to a concert.
My favorite band in the world is Switchfoot, and this is also my family's collective favorite band. We took our daughters as their first concert- and it did not disappoint. Lead singer of Switchfoot- Jon Foreman walked out into the crowd while singing, right to our family. And later, he crowd surfed over us.
But that is not the only thing that stuck out to me. Opening act Tyson Motsenbocker, while talking about one of his songs, said this:
"We need to criticize what we love."
At first glance, this seems cynical or harsh. But what he really was saying is that if we really love something, we do not need to just accept it as it is. We need to question it, not just act on blind faith that it works the way we think it does.
A marriage that never questions its intentions will be shallow. An engineer that never questions their structures will make an inferior product. A doctor that never questions their methods will eventually make a mistake.
And educators that never question- or criticize- their instruction or campus culture will never grow.
To never question or criticize is- to me- to be complacent. To accept that it is "good enough" or "is what it is."
It is apathy, and apathy is the enemy of learning.
So, when I ask questions, when I challenge the ideas of my fellow educators- it is not out of judgment or harshness or superiority that I question you. No, I question because I care.
Because I believe that together we can be better.
And because I need you to question me, too.
I have a list of communication "rules" in my classroom. Little hints to remind students that how we communicate is just as important as what we communicate. My rule number two is this:
When I hear these three words, I know what I am about to hear is going to hurt my feelings. And feel very personal. The phrase that on the surface was meant to alleviate concern actually creates more concern.
And it is not alone.
Our language is complex enough, but our own intentions (that we can often intend to mask) add a complete other level. Educators are definitely not immune- we speak a number of phrases that mean something different than the original intent. Or, we say things that mean different things to different people.
Here are a few of those phrases unpacked:
Data driven instruction.
No three words are used more to support a new method of instruction than these. And I am not arguing that data is unnecessary- quite the opposite. Data needs to inform our educational practice. But it needs to be allowed to tell the truth. And too often, we twist it to meet our own needs.
Case in point. A fellow educator reached out to me last year. They had done flexible seating in their math classroom, but their admins kept marking them down on evaluations because of it. They argued that it was not beneficial to the students. I asked the educator how their students compared to others in their scores (data). The students performed at or above the levels of their peers. So data backed their use of flexible seating, but their admins ignored that. The educator eventually stopped using flexible seating.
Data supported their endeavors, but data did not matter in this case.
Mark Twain popularized a quote from British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Disraeli is saying that statistics (data) can be manipulated to support our opinions. Education does this a great deal. Standardized testing anyone?
If we are to use data, it needs to be transparent in how it is acquired, replicable, and NOT manipulated.
I hear this phrase a lot as well. On the surface, we want our students to have an educational opportunity that is relatively equal. If class A is doing a really fun project and class B is just testing- that seems unfair.
But too often, 'equity' can be used as a buzzword to control the type of instruction done. Used in conjunction with 'curriculum alignment,' equity can seem to a classroom teacher like they are being told not just what to teach- but how to teach it.
So how can we alleviate concerns that we will be micromanaged in our instructional style? Again, like with data, transparency is key. If people are not understanding what equity means, or the process behind developing it- explain it. Make sure the door is open to conversations about what equity really should look like.
When I was in high school, I went hunting with some friends during dove season. The doves were hiding out pretty well, and that morning we only shot three. My friend who was an avid hunter, Jared, informed (threatened) that I would have to field dress the next dove we shot. I made sure to not hit anything for the rest of the day.
I tell this story to establish that I am not a hunter, but I do greatly appreciate nature and the creatures that exist in it. In fact, my retirement goal includes moving to the mountains and starting a "no kill hunt" where folks learn to stalk animals in the wild, and the trophy they collect is a photo of the animal they are 'hunting.'
It is a little ironic that my favorite U.S. President is the one most synonymous with hunting- Theodore Roosevelt.
I am currently reading a book about Roosevelt called The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde. It looks at Roosevelt as Naturalistic (duh) Hunter and his contributions to Natural History. Early in the book, Lunde establishes a definition of a naturalist hunter that sets them apart from the common perception of hunters. He states that most people see hunters as meat hunters (hunt for food) or sport hunters (hunt for fun/trophies). Naturalist hunters hunt for communion with nature and the object of the hunt. He says this
That quote hit me hard. Roosevelt and others like him did take trophies, did consume their prey, but they also had a strong desire to UNDERSTAND nature.
Immediately, I made an educational connection. Many educators work for money (meat hunters)- even if it is not much. They punch a clock and wait for retirement. Others teach because they love it (sport hunters). They enjoy sharing their knowledge and interacting with students.
Neither of these are bad, per se, but they lack something. Teachers who are 'meat hunters' may lack passion or care- they teach because it is how they survive. Teachers who are 'sport hunters' have the passion, but passion can fade. When the reward they feel from teaching fades, they will become 'meat hunters' just counting the days to retirement and making their living.
Educators who choose to become Naturalists choose to teach to become a part of learning. To become a part of the students' lives. They thrive on the connection. Yes, they get their 'meat' and their 'sport,' but they get something more.
They learn, too.
Lunde addresses a well known fact about Theodore Roosevelt's youth- he was sickly. He also deeply desired to interact with the outdoors, but was limited in that exposure. One day, he found a seal carcass at a local butcher and eventually was able to acquire the seal head. He studied the head, and discovered an intense interest in trying to understand how the anatomy of the seal worked. He then began collecting other specimens to form a 'museum' in his home. He even got his siblings to help collect the specimens. He found a way to become a part of nature.
As teachers, we must have an intense curiosity about our subject matter, but also about how to better understand our students. To become a Naturalistic Educator, we need to seek to understand what makes our students tick. It takes investment in listening to what and how they say things. We need to desire to be a part of the class- not in a creepy old person hanging with kids way- but in a "I am learning and growing with you" way. Naturalistic Educators realize there is a give and take- we too must invest in the lessons and in the real life we are living together.
Roosevelt understood that we share this world with the animals in it. It would be good to understand how they live. We need to understand that our students are not just goals to be achieved or boxes to get checked off. They are unique individuals we share this world with.
We should try to understand and engage with them.
Be a Naturalist. And like Roosevelt, recruit your friends and co-workers to join in.
Make your classrooms museums of active learning.
My wife jokes that we cannot go anywhere without me running into someone I know. What is nice is that these incidents where I run into students at the store or at dinner are - so far- positive.
But it has also served as a reminder-
I am not anonymous.
I find myself very aware of what I purchase, how I tip, and how I act in public because in a our "little" town of just over 100,000 people, I am always running into students.
Now, a teacher has a right to their private life. But that is no excuse for us acting in a manner on Saturday that will impact our relationships with students come Monday. And there are several key areas we need to be keenly aware and take action to protect our character in the eyes of our students.
You have a right- and obligation- to practice your politics. Whether you vote R or D or EDU- it does not matter except that you do it. The area you need to be careful in is HOW you go about your politics. In our classroom, we must keep our politics out by law. But when our students see us out advocating for our politics- are they seeing us advocate with character and integrity or with the kind of political speak becoming all too common?
I work very hard to keep students from knowing my political affiliation because with my content (especially debate) I want students to develop their own politics- not parrot mine. I never want to teach my debaters to "say it like I would," rather to speak like they mean it. And if I am able to encourage both sides of a political debate in my class, I need to be able to accept and respectfully debate those politics when I am not in the classroom. So if my student sees me, they see me maintaining my same character.
I used to be a minister. Once, at a high school basketball game, I stood next to a deacon of my church as he proceed to take off his hat (which bore the church name) and scream a taunt at the referee. Then he smiled as he put the hat back on.
What that spoke to me was that he knew his behavior did not represent the church well, so he wanted to hide his affiliation.
As a teacher, you are not anonymous. Your actions at your child's sporting event, or your students', will be noticed. Are you POSITIVELY supporting your team, or NEGATIVELY running down the other- which by the way, if not for geography, could have been your students? If you are showing poor sportsmanship, it will be contagious.
To clear the air, I do not drink. It is a personal choice, and one that I have held my entire life. The sum total of alcohol I have consumed could probably be contained in a medium sized beer mug. My choice is not everyone's, so I recognize and support a teacher's right to drink an adult beverage.
But it must be said that when doing so in public, I believe we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. If I did drink, it would not bother me if a student saw me responsibly consuming a beverage if I was of age. Because I am still modeling a law abiding right that they too will some day have. But if my student saw me drunk or hungover- what moral stance could I have with my student come Monday?
I know what the argument is- as an adult over 21, I can drink as much as I want. True. But as an adult teacher over 21, SHOULD you? If I am drunk behind closed doors at my home- that is one thing. But drunk at a public place like a restaurant, wedding, or tailgate? What image does that convey to a student about self control?
Finally, if you have ever been at a restaurant and had students see you or even wait on you- how did it affect your behavior?
I am very aware of my actions toward the staff- is it respectful and courteous or demanding and rude? Being aware that students are watching how I treat others when I expect them to treat others with respect daily makes my interactions here important.
And tipping? Especially if your student is the server? That is a tough one, but know that your actions there will have a lasting impact on that student no matter how much or little you leave.
I do not want to be preachy about this- but I implore you to be mindful when you are out there. Eyes are watching you. You may not have the paparazzi snapping shots of you- but a far more important audience is. They are taking note if you are the same in the class as out- holding yourself to similar standards that you hold them to.
You are not anonymous, afterall.
I began thinking about writing this reflection, and something happened.
I got busy.
Rather, I stayed busy.
This is not a realization that is alien to any educator, as evidenced by this common refrain among teachers:
Educator 1: "Hey- how are things?"
Educator 2: "Ah, you know, super busy."
Educator 1: "Totally get it. I was at the school until late again last night."
Educator 2: "Yep. And I've got so much grading to do AND my extra curricular is this weekend."
It is safe to say that our reasons for business are vast and varied- from grading to extra-curriculars to a desire to continue to grow, and do all that we can for students.
For me, education is a calling. But callings are dangerous things. They can consume you, they can become your life. Before teaching, I was a minister- another calling. And as in teaching, ministry consumed my life. You can set boundaries, you can set aside time, take breaks- but with callings, the job gets in your heart. You think about it when you are off- so you are never off.
It is a cliche to say we do what we do for the kids. Too often, that phrase gets used to justify having to do something we do not want to do (or guilt another teacher into doing something they don't want to do). But the truth is, I teach because I want to make a difference. And I am pursuing administration to make a bigger difference than that which I can in my classroom.
Here is where my calling and my ambitions clash. See, I take on more and more responsibility because I want to make a difference in as many lives as I can, and because those responsibilities will help to develop my leadership and prepare me for administration.
But what has happened is that I keep taking on more and more- and still have not been able to move into that position.
So I find myself in my most feared position- stuck. I fear I cannot let some responsibilities go because then people will say I cannot handle my workload and use that as a reason for passing me by- and I also do not want to let students that have come to count on me down. So, to answer the reflection, what I find myself in is a spiral of perpetual work with no movement.
I am frustrated, and I am not alone.
I know there are others who have done great work in both quantity and quality that watch as other people get a shot and they get more workload. And if they are like me, they take that rejection (often accompanied by the really offensive "Just keep doing what you are doing, it will happen") as evidence they need to do more.
For me, I am coming to a realization that I cannot be the educator and leader I need to be for my students if I have an empty tank. And I cannot be the husband and father I need to be, either. That means a long hard look at committees and groups I serve in that are not serving me or my students as they should. It means taking the risk of stepping down from things that look good on a resume, but are taking fuel from my calling to make a difference. Time spent in a committee meeting that moves no significant change could be better spent reflecting on my practice and instruction- or developing ways to better connect with students. I will be taking time to reflect on the student groups, teams, and organizations as well as committees I serve on to see what is truly having an impact on students- and which ones I can move on from.
A long time ago, a fellow educator told me to learn to say "no." It is time I learned that lesson.
It is the spring semester now, and that means I get to teach my psychology classes. I really love the depths that I can go to in understanding and helping students understand how human beings work. Early on, we are discussing the historical growth of psychology and we learned today about one of the most important tools any human being can possess: Introspection.
Introspection is the act of looking into one's self, one's own personal motivations, emotions, and behaviors to better understand yourself. In education, we take to calling this reflection. As teachers, we ask students to reflect on their work, and we in turn expect our peers to thoughtfully reflect on their practices.
The truth is, many of our students do not know how to engage in real meaningful introspection because one limiting factor is age. You have to have experiences to reflect on them, and many of our youngest pupils have a limited toolbox there. And a reflection need not always be written- though I think writing introspections has tremendous value- because you are really just helping students learn to process. But there are still ways to introspect- or reflect- with students that model this practice regardless of the age.
How does that make you feel?
One of the most basic practices is to ask how a thing makes you feel. In order to get away from the basics (sad, mad, glad, etc.) ask your younger students to pick our a marker or crayon color that shows how they feel. Let them explain why they chose that color. As students get older, and experiences grow, you can dive deeper into those feelings, asking questions like "Is there another time you have felt like that? How do they relate to each other?"
Why do you believe what you believe?
The dreaded "why" we get from our young ones can be used against them! When students share a thought, ask why they think that. It is important that your intonation is one of genuine curiosity, and not disappointment. As students get older, explaining the importance of knowing why you believe something is just as important as stating what you believe is vital. Just listen to a teenager complain about something political with great passion, then ask them why they think that. Again, not as a "gotcha," but to genuinely understand their point of view. It will also force the student to evaluate just how dearly they hold that view.
Interestingly enough, the most effective way I have found to help students understand why the believe in what they believe in is to make them argue against it. When a student is passionately for gun control and they have to debate against it- they do not often change opinions, but instead deepen and strengthen their original stance. The introspection is increased because it is attempting to understand the other side, and evaluate how best to support their own views- or change them if in error.
The bottom line is- we need to evaluate our selves and see where we stand on a regular basis whether we are first grade or forty years into teaching. Learning to honestly assess our own feelings is a necessary skill, and one we need to teach more often.
For the last month, we have been in the process of moving my mom out of her house of 40 years into our home while she builds a new home here in College Station with us. A couple weeks back, we had rented a U-Haul truck and prepared to move a lot of stuff one Saturday. Between the rental of the truck and the day of moving, it rained. A lot. Between 3 and 6 inches. The morning of the move, I drove down her long driveway in the truck, and attempted to turn the truck around to back up to the house by her garage. It was not intended to take more than 10 seconds to turn around, but the empty truck just sank into the mud. We tried pouring bags of pea gravel under the tires for traction, putting boards and bricks under the wheels, rocking the truck. We would get some movement, then - we sunk again.
Here I was, with an empty truck, a full house, willing hands to help, and I was slowly sinking deeper into the yard. Finally, we got a neighbor's tractor to pull us out, we loaded and went on. Mom is now comfortably settled in with us.
But this experience enlightened to what my greatest fear is:
Last fall was a bad time for me. I had been passed over for an admin position I felt I deserved, and the job opportunities were drying up. We had put our home on the market to buy a particular house- which sold and left us still in our old home with no offers. We had had a summer with lots of unexpected expenses and no significant salary increase in sight to cover them.
I felt about as stuck as I had ever been.
I hated it. And the advice I got from well-meaning people was "It is just not the right time for _____ yet." To a person who feels stuck, those words are the rising mud around their tires.
Eventually, our house did sell, and we have a wonderful new home. I still have no admin job, but I did get a chance to develop and lead an amazing student leadership program (LEADS) that is going very well in it's first year. And as all educators know, finances are "meh."
As I reflected on my fear of 'stuck,' I began to realize that this is a healthy fear. It is a fear that keeps me moving, innovating, and trying new things. It reminds me to never stop looking for new ways to meet the needs of students and fellow educators who have become 'stuck' themselves.
Unfortunately, it has also allowed me to see that education in America is 'stuck.' Sure, there are innovators and leaders that are doing amazing things, but unfortunately, they are little more than bags of pea gravel that get momentary movement. The fear I am beginning to have is that education enjoys being stuck, and actually fears what will happen if these innovators really gain traction.
For example- we love to talk about going gradeless. Individuals will do it, but the system will never embrace it. We encourage student voice, but seem to love to still tell students who speak out what they cannot do. We complain about standardized tests and the lack of individuality in education, then make our teachers all teach the same way and call it "equity."
I am about to give my final fall final (say that 3 times fast) which is supposed to be a measure of my students' learning over the semester. Why? Because it gives them a grade that tells me manageable data. That number grade will be put into an electronic gradebook and a student will be happy or sad about their grade and then go on with their life. Why? Because that is the way we have always done it.
My other finals measured learning differently. One final was oral- my debate students answered my questions about what their greatest strengths were, what areas of growth they needed, what they learned. etc. The other was War- a game in sociology where students answered content questions while engaging in strategies (including alliances and defense vs offence tactics) which actually served as a final lesson on how war impacts sociological development. But my last final is World History, and I have to give a test that is the same as other teachers because we must be equitable. And I get that- but will my student's responses on a piece of paper REALLY tell me what they have learned? But much of education has gotten stuck in the data that tests and traditional methods of education provide.
To me, the greatest measurement of student learning is not a test grade. It is what they go home and tell their parents and friends they learned about. That is the opposite of stuck. To me at least.
So how do we get unstuck? For me, it was finding ways to pour as much pea gravel into my situation as a I could. Those innovators and leaders who are the pea gravel under the tires MUST continue to be that. But the educational system has got to start gaining on the traction they are providing. Those leaders voices must not just receive likes and shares on Twitter, they need to be given traction in classes and campuses. Campus and district leaders should actively seek to apply the principles they comment on in blogs, and look to hire educators who are the pea gravel. Teachers who prize innovation in their practice should encourage and support it in their students.
But the key for education to get unstuck is simple- stop just spinning our wheels deeper into the mud. Stop doing things the same way we have always done it when it no longer works or does not meet the needs of our students.
In 2019, let's get unstuck.
"Guys, I'm tired."
You have no doubt heard this if you are a teacher or a friend of a teacher. And today, I want to speak to my non-teacher friends. See, your teacher friends are anxiously awaiting a two week (about) break from school. And before you are tempted to be jealous of this "extended" break, let me explain why I- and many of my teacher friends- are tired.
This time of year, our days often begin before the sun starts its workday. We are the school to watch the sunrise. And often, we are there to see it set. That is a normal workday. But another part of our workday is this- we are "on" for all of that time.
Imagine arriving early to work to get ahead, and immediately a client walks in needing help. You spend a half hour helping them, and realize the rest of your clients have arrived for normal business hours. You work straight through until lunch, where you get a half hour- but some of your clients often want to stick around to eat in your office. It's back to work where you then deal with clients for another couple hours before you get your break- in which you have to prepare for the next day. After the workday ends at 4, more clients arrive to get some help. You would look forward to the weekend, but you have to take a dozen or so clients to a business meeting out of town, and will arrive at work around 5 am and not return until 10 or 11 that NIGHT.
I want you to understand that this is not a complaint- this is an effort for teachers like myself to help you understand the hard part of our job. See, so far, you just see the hours. But what occurs in those hours? A whole other level.
Imagine your clients are people you really care about- not in a "the customer is always right" kind of way, but in a "these are my kids and I want them to not only survive, but to THRIVE" kind of way. You put up with early morning clients because you know they need it to thrive- but all too often they need it to survive. They are there early because they cannot get that help anywhere else. My friend and classroom neighbor Casey Akin is one of those teachers. She is here when I get here and here after I leave most days, teaching students Chemistry. Now, I never really got or enjoyed chemistry, but Akin's students love her. And what's more, they often end up loving chemistry. She calls them 'nerds" and they smile- a genuine smile of recognition of true care and concern in that word. They are disappointed when she has to- heaven forbid- go home when the school day ends because she too has a life beyond our walls. And though she very much needs that time for herself, I see the hurt she feels because she does not want to let her "nerds" down.
See, we also have to teach our clients social skills. Teenagers have a brain that closely resembles the decision making of that of a psychopath. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030131905.htm)
We spend a good portion of our time teaching students how to interact appropriately with each other and with adults. In customer service, "the customer is always right" so you do not correct bad behavior. Correcting it is often a part of our job. One that MOST of us do not relish. We too get tired of rehashing rules, dress coding, saying "that's not appropriate," and settling disputes among our clients. My wife Kristin is a Special Education teacher and so she gets an extra dose of this. She has to navigate diagnoses, paperwork, and students who- more than their peers- need guidance on making basic, good choices. Plus, she often has to see students struggle with the unthinkable to most of us, and still press on with hope and high expectations. And she is great at it. But she also has two kids of her own- so her work and homelife overlap. Often. But she is great at that, too.
We also have our own kids, so when we do finally get home, we often have to help our kids with their homework. Only this time- we are not dealing with material we teach, so we have to learn this as well. Remember that class you struggled with in school? Now you have to help your own kid understand it after you spent all day getting your clients to understand your content. Good luck.
A lot of us take on extra projects at work, too. I'm leading a group right now that gives up their extra and "free" time to teach some students about leadership. Eric Zylman, Christie Brod, Javan Cashaw, Emily Harding, Jill Butler, Bunny Muncie, Deidre Merseal, and Amy Powell are classroom teachers that give up a half day a month to take 5th-8th graders to leadership training. They are also working extra time with these students to develop campus projects like outdoor seating spaces, walkways for students, and even community gardens. And they get no extra pay. Marina Rodriquez is another one of these Innovators (as I call them), but she is an overseer like me. She too spends extra time with students helping them learn to blog and reflect. She has students that do not know how to read or write well come to love writing. Because she loves it and loves them. And they can see that.
So, by now you probably are wondering why we do not just take a day off every now and then? Well, when most people take a day off, their project or work is exactly where they left it. Every day for teachers is moving forward, so we have to prepare lessons even when we are not there. Oh, and remember that social skills piece from earlier? Yeah, when we are out, we usually have to come back and address those things the next day. So, we play sick and injured. A lot.
You remember a teacher that inspired you? They were probably pretty relatable or had a lot of energy. My friend Jeremy Dockan is like that. He is always coming up to me with wild eyes and a new experiment that often involves explosions. He has such energy that students are drawn to him and his love for chemistry. (To be fair, the wild eyes and high energy may have something to do with me bringing him coffee every morning.) But teachers with energy also need to find a way to recharge those batteries (hence, the coffee). And that takes time.
I guess you could ask why we do this. If we are exhausted and stretched thin- and honestly often unappreciated by our clients, their parents and even our peers- why keep doing it?
It comes down to what the meaning of the holiday at the center of our upcoming break is- hope. Every day we wake up with hope that we will inspire someone. Hope that our students will make good choices that lead them to lifelong success. Hope that we educate a generation that will leave the world better than we found it.
We hope that we make a difference. For each and every student.
So when a teacher says, "Guys, I'm tired," know that it means they have cared greatly for your child and hold high hopes for their future.
For the last three years my sociology classes have designed classrooms during our Education in Society unit. In the beginning, I set no limits and amazing (impractical) rooms were designed. Now there is a theoretical $1000 limit and the ideas are much more practical.
This year, about a third of my groups built their classroom in a shoebox, and I realized the power of this idea for student voice in all classes. What if you could give your students a shoebox and have them build YOUR classroom?
For a bonus communication lesson, have them present it as a proposal to the class and teachers AND Admins!
Listen to their ideas- with your budget- and see where they can take you!
I learned to play checkers at my grandparents house before I started school, and I learned chess in high school.
Just the other day, while waiting for seat at Cracker Barrel, I played my twelve year old in her first game of checkers. It was a rather one sided victory, and it was a simple strategy- surround and conquer.
A day or so later, a friend was talking about challenging his niece to a game of chess and described some of the complex strategies and diverse moves that he used to beat her.
As these two classic games and the memories I have of them rattled in my head, I began to see comparisons to how we approach our campus and classroom culture. I tend to see educators either play chess or play checkers with issues like discipline and development, and I also tend to see one approach being more impactful to student learning and to staff development.
React or Prepare
I think the easiest difference in approach to see is the react (checkers) vs prepare (chess) model. In playing with my daughter, I noticed we both simply reacted to what happened. There was a minimal amount of planning- simply a "they did this, so I do this" style of play. In chess, one needs to think multiple moves ahead. Traps can be set. Not that checkers cannot be played this way, but it is more common to see the reaction style.
In school culture, we either react to a situation or we prepare for many. We often think that discipline must be a reaction based response, but in truth- if we have not already formulated a potential response to a situation, we can make significant mistakes. Most of the time when I lose my cool or say something I regret to a student, it is based on a reactionary mindset- I have not prepared and strategized a response. Reactionary discipline is all too often emotional in a bad way. You can also practice preparedness by teaching expectations. My current campus has attempted to do this with our Cougar Qualities- teaching students what good character looks like.
But it is not all discipline- we can react to or prepare for new developments. If you have a lot of leaders on campus, are you reacting to their requests to serve, or preparing opportunities for them to step up? When there are curriculum changes, do you wait until the last minute to implement or brainstorm as far in advance as you can?
There will always be reaction responses- even in chess. But the more we can minimize those in the moment decisions, the better prepared we are when they cannot be avoided.
Different Roles or the Same Role
One of the more complex elements of chess is learning that each piece behaves differently. Much like your classroom. (OK, that analogy literally writes itself.) For some, this is a reason to stick to the simple, every piece does the same thing game of checkers. But does it lead to real stimulation and growth?
We have long heard that not every student is the same. Each has unique strengths, weaknesses, interests, abilities and quirks. Yet too often, we treat these varies chess pieces like common checker discs. We force our knights to move forward, not in the L pattern they succeed in. A rook can cover the width or length of the board, yet we make it move a space at a time. If we adopt a chess mindset of the classroom, we can allow our students to find and pursue their passions and strengths, instead of standardizing their learning to fit a simple mold.
But the diversity is broader than that. If you are a campus leader, do you treat all your teachers the same? Sure, there must be equity, but if you treat a staff member capable of moving multiple spaces at once the same way you do a single space mover- is that benefiting them? Is it benefiting your campus? You have teachers with unique gifts- find ways to incorporate them in your leadership of the campus.
Another comparison worth noting here is that checkers campus leaders often use the phrase "there are not titles here." They mean to say we all work together and no one is more important than anyone else. But in practice- try to do something a department head or admin would do and see what happens. See, there are no titles on checkers pieces, but there are kings. And kings have more authority and exercise that authority when a regular checkers disc makes a move. But a chess minded campus leader is not afraid to admit that some people have responsibilities and obligations that carry more or different weight. And if someone wants to take that on, they will strategically find a place for them.
Proficient or Prestige
You ever noticed that there are Chess Grandmasters, but no Checkers Grandmasters? Both games involve levels of difficulty and strategy, yet chess is seen by most as the superior intellectual game.
If you are playing campus checkers, you can still have an great campus culture. You can be- to use a term co-opted for teacher evaluations- proficient. But if you want your campus to be something truly special- something that other campuses and other districts look to for inspiration (think Ron Clark Academy)- you have to play campus chess.
Be innovative, not isolated. Be relational, not just rigorous. Be strategic, not just satisfactory.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.