Last summer, the brake light on my 2013 Camaro went out.
No biggie, right? Well, see, that model car has a brake light in the back window, and that is the one that went out.
Still, no biggie, right?
Well, see, that model decided it was a GREAT idea to put the brake light in the actual molding of the car's interior.
The light itself was expensive, but it was going to be a couple hundred dollars in labor to get it replaced, so I did what any red-blooded American teacher with little funds would do.
I decided to fix it myself.
I Googled and YouTubed the heck out of it. I found out why it cost so much in labor- I would have to remove the entire back seat, the molding that surrounds not just the trunk, but also the side windows in the back seat. I needed special tools that I did not have, but I winged it.
The result was a functional brake light, but at the cost of a now warbled stereo.
Every day, we educators stand in front of students and tell them things. We give instructions, we share content. But the thing is, like my Camaro repair story- they can find anything- ANYTHING- we are teaching them online- YouTube, Google, Khan Academy, TEDTalks, etc. And like my Camaro story, they will go out and do what they see online and be moderately successful, but there will be costs, too.
See, our students, like me and my Camaro, lack the right tools. They have the content, not the tools to interact with that content effectively. And even if we control the content they get, they still need the right tools- analysis, communication, fact checking, etc- to be able to apply their learning.
And yet, in education, we spend an exorbitant amount of time on the content, the curriculum. We tell kids what they can find online anywhere over and over, while telling new teachers not to be the "sage on the stage" at the same time most of our training these days is focused on how to be more sage-like.
What our students need is a full tool-box. We need to teach them skills to interact with content- and maybe point them in the direction of where to find the content they need to succeed in class and in life.
But if all we ever do is give them curriculum or content without providing the right tools, we are only going to get warbled stereo sounds from the voice of the next generation.
And no one wants or needs that.
This will be my last blog.
For a bit, anyway.
And honestly, I have really debated writing it because of how it might be perceived- and you know, perception is reality as I have often said here.
Some will see this as griping- it is not, but it will be critical.
Some will see it as giving up- it is not, it is kicking off a calculated moment of quiet, private reflection.
Some will think I share too much personal struggle- I do not think we educators are honest enough about those tough times.
The truth is, I feel a bit like the bird who crashes into your window. For the last few years, I have seen my goals- clearly- and flown for them full speed. Then crashed into the unseen barrier that keeps those goals just out of reach.
I have had a goal of creating, empowering and exercising student voice and action. Here, I have had success with the students in my classes, students in my LEADS program, and with my debate students. They have found, exercised, and acted on their voice beautifully. The glass window has been that we adults do not often pay that much attention to them. I tell my students their voice matters, but the adult world seems to go, "That's nice, that's cute. But wait until you're older, then you'll really understand." It feels to my students that for every adult who listens, there are a lot more that hear, but do not listen. I struggle because I feel I am lying to my students when they come back to me and say "I tried to talk to this adult in power, and they shut me down. I thought my voice mattered."
So I seek leadership to put myself in a position to be a leader that listens, only to hit that old glass wall. I'm told more experience is needed; or you have only been teaching 6 or 7 years, it will come. And my favorite- keep doing what you are doing. But is that not what we call insanity- to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results? So, my human defense mechanisms of arrogance and entitlement have begun to kick in. And these two qualities are NOT becoming of a leader that listens to others. I blame it on the glass wall head injury.
I struggle with the weight we teachers carry. In my 7 years in public education, this is the first year that the thought of looking elsewhere has gained any traction. The amount of weight I am carrying as a classroom teacher of 4 preps a semester, sponsor of one club, coach of a debate team, member of the SEL team, District Director for LEADS, frequent blogger- oh and husband and father- has become burdensome.
But I cannot leave the profession I love. For all the crap, there is my students. And I love them. These last few days as the year winds up has reminded me they are my purpose. I built LEADS for them. I create engaging lessons for them. I get up at 4 am on a Saturday and return at 11 pm for them. I seek to be an administrator for them. And next year, one of those 'them' will be my own daughter.
This wrinkle- my own daughter being on my campus and potentially one of my students or club members or debate team members- has been an eye opener. Each student I look at is representative of my own daughters. I want their teachers to fight for them, to be the best for them- so I need to be the best for your children.
To do that, I need to stop for a bit. I need to find my path again. I need to re-evaluate if the best way to the goal is to keep running into the window until it does crack (or I do)- or if maybe there is an open door on the other side of the building.
But I need to do that privately. I will miss blogging- it helps me think. But right now, my vision is muddied, and my eyes are tired.
I look forward to speaking with you again someday- with more clarity and renewed vision. Until then- I leave you with this Theodore Roosevelt quote:
In 2014, I wrote the following post. I was about to start my second year of having my own classroom, and I was coming off an amazing first year. Since that time, things have gotten tougher- there have been big wins and big losses. I believe we need to be reminded from time to time of why we do what we do.
As I was re-reading this blog, I remembered my mindset at the time. Optimism, excitement, and hope. It is that time of year when exhaustion, frustration, and weariness are in greater supply. I had no idea when I wrote this blog where I would be today. But it does my heart good to see that on those core things-student voice and empowerment- I have been consistent.
Reading this reminded me to think beyond the moment to the overall theme of education. I hope it can do the same for you.
I teach because I come from a family of teachers, and I married one. They seem like great people.
I teach because my high school AP English teacher, Jack Nims, taught me that the right answer is not always the best answer. He taught me how to think, not just how to regurgitate information.
I teach because the more I teach, the more I want to learn. Just when I think I know all I can about a subject, a little breadcrumb promise of something more is dropped, and I chase it down, hungry for more.
I teach because I have seen the difference an adult can make in a child if they just pay attention. I have seen the faces of parents who were just thankful I took the time to appreciate their child for who they are, and the face of a student who saw an adult besides their parent care. I teach for those that have been missed.
I teach because teenagers today impact our culture more than even they know, and I want to point them in the way that makes them the best they can be. I hate the phrase "Children are our future." They aren't. They are our now. They are shaping our music, our worldviews, our technology, our approach to life, etc. Sometimes it is beautiful. Sometimes it is terrifying. Students need teachers that do not seek to make them better people- that would be social engineering. Teachers should guide and encourage students to find who they are. I teach to point students to find the best person they can be.
I teach history because I love to tell stories. I teach psychology because I love to try to figure out the way people tick. I teach them both because the stories of history and understanding people are my favorite way to point students toward that "best person they can be."
I teach because the moment of understanding is the most intoxicating thing there is on Earth. Whether you teach Math, Science, English, Art, Football, Foreign Language, Social Studies, Philosophy, or Theology - the moment a student's face lights up with recognition or irreverently shouts out that they "Got it!," is the best feeling there is. I teach because I am addicted to those moments, and want more and more.
I teach because I want my students to know I see them as people, and I care about them succeeding not because it makes me look good, but because it makes them stronger and smarter people. I teach because I like my students- all of them.
I teach because teachers matter. I teach because they are needed. I teach because they are on the front lines of making a difference in the lives of millions. I teach because I want to be a part of something that truly, positively affects the world.
I teach because it is- So. Much. Fun.
For over twenty years, I have worked with teens and young adults. First as a minister, now as an educator. In that time, I have told you things like "Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do," and "You can do anything you set your mind to, " and "You are the leaders of today- not just tomorrow." I have told you that your voice matters.
I am sorry to inform you today that I was not completely honest with you.
I believe those things- or rather, I want to believe that those things are true. But in my life, in the world YOU are trying to survive in- they are cliches. Motivational posters that look nice on a wall, but only bring disappointment because that is just not how the world works.
There are obstacles out there that cannot be overcome by sheer force of will or passion or patience. There are systems in place that simply will not allow you to reach what I had optimistically promised you. There are circumstances yet to come that I cannot foresee- nor can you or anyone else. There are issues in your life you did not create and are not to be blamed for.
But you are.
To my minority students- I am sorry that you are in an education system that seems hellbent on continuing to use your skin color as a reason for why you fail- or why you succeed. I am sorry that we collect your race so we can look at test scores and wonder why this race tends to score lower than this race- as if skin color is the reason and not a million other factors we brush aside. I am sorry that you will continue to be stopped by cops, security guards, and yes, educators because of your skin color and the geographical location you possess at the moment. I am sorry that there is a system in place that you cannot control that wants to treat you differently than other human beings- even in positive ways- because it seems to believe that you cannot, in fact, do anything you set your mind to without help. I will always strive to see you, as Martin Luther King Jr hoped, based not on the color of your skin, but on the content of your character. I am sorry that I will fail at times, but I will never stop trying to enable success for all my students.
To my female students (and my daughters)- I am sorry that society objectifies you. I am sorry that society allows men that take advantage of you to continue to succeed while you question your worth. I am sorry that school dress codes often vilify you, or put the onus of responsibility on you for boys' behavior regarding the opposite sex. I am also sorry that we seem to try to confuse you about that- we tell you you that you are more than your looks, yet we only really seem to celebrate feminine empowerment with a sexualized lens. I am sorry that we do not try to create more STEM opportunities for you from an early age- some of the greatest scientific minds of our past have been women who had to do it on their own. I will always strive defend you when needed and step out of you way when you've got this. I am sorry that I will fail at times, but I will never stop trying to enable success for all my students.
To my male students- I am sorry that my generation and those before it have behaved badly, and given you a reputation. I am sorry that we have made it ok to be the strong dumb guy because physical strength is more important to us that emotional and intellectual strength. I am sorry we gave you a system that puts you in charge without asking you to earn it and deserve it. I am sorry to the good guys out there that can't catch a break because they play by the rules and get blamed for those few that refuse to do so. I am sorry that education seems to only care about you if you are really smart or can play a sport- we just do not seem to know what to do with you. I am sorry that we have not shown you what real masculinity is all about. That is pride in being a man; respect for women in ALL ways; strength of body, mind, emotion, and character; that it is owning our mistakes and issues and not blaming others; that it is finding a passion and pursuing it. I want to show you that path by being that example. I am sorry that I will fail at times, but I will never stop trying to enable success for all my students.
To my students that are LGBTQ+- I am sorry that I have not always been understanding of your plight. You navigate a world where some people support you strongly, some disagree with you politely, some disagree violently and offensively. And each new interaction for you is stressful because you never know what you are going to face. I am sorry that those who disagree with you- who believe it is a sin or whatever- cannot do so with grace, tact, and respect. I am also sorry that we have a society that has allowed ho you want to date to define you far more than any of your other qualities and abilities. I will always strive to respect you and your journey- and seek to better understand both. I am sorry that I will fail at times, but I will never stop trying to enable success for all my students.
I am sorry that as educators we place weighty, adult expectations on you- huge assignments, tough personal and academic choices, compromises- yet often talk to you as if you were a child. And treat you as one when you do not meet those expectations. I never want you to think of me as condescending to you- and if I am, please accept my apology.
I am sorry that you have zero legal say in your public education until you are too old to benefit from it. If it makes you feel any better, we teachers have to do what a bunch of people that have never been teachers tell us to do. And we voted for them. Our bad.
To the students that tense up when a teacher talks to them- I am sorry that your interactions with teachers and administrators prior to our interactions have left you stressed. I am sorry if you feel the only interaction I have with you is correction and never congrats.
I am sorry when I forget to tell you why I corrected you or you were wrong. I am also sorry when I neglect to tell you why you were right. "Why" is the most important thing we need to understand the world we live in. I owe you 'why.'
I am sorry I take it personal sometimes. I am really good at recognizing when its a bad day, or you are in your feels so that I know it is isn't me. Even when you say its me. But sometimes, it hurts. Like how sometimes it hurts you, and you just cannot keep the emotions down.
I am sorry when an educator asks you for your side of the story then repeatedly interrupts you to say what they think is wrong with that story. You may be wrong, by the way, but you deserve to be heard out. Then we can discuss where our opinions differ.
I am sorry it is a fearful thing to come to school because of school shootings. I am almost equally as heartbroken for you to have become a pawn in the political games of the right AND the left.
I am sorry that our society is teaching you that the best way to win an argument is by being rude, dismissive, and cruel. I sound bite might win an argument, but it ultimately lose people's best interest.
I am sorry that some of you have parents that love you so much you never see them because they work three jobs. I am sorry that some of you see your parents all the time but never know if they love you.
I am sorry if the system or the world seems unfair. I feel it sometimes, too. I want to change it. But I am just a teacher. See, I want to change education, but my voice only reaches a thousand or so on Twitter, and a handful of educators that I get to interact with. I want to be an administrator, to have a bigger voice and impact on the small part of the world you call school. But I have a system to follow too. I submit a paper, meet some people and they decide if I fit. Ultimately, it does not matter how much or how well or how long I have done something, it comes down to their opinion. And I cannot change that. Sometimes it feels fair, sometimes biased. Sometimes I agree with the decision, other times not so much. But the thing is, I cannot control it. I can (and have) complained about the decision, but it does not serve to better me or the system. All I can do is continue to do my best and hope that someday I will be in a position to make a difference.
And that is true for you, too.
But I am sorry that I have doubted my potential impact, or the potency of those words I share with you. I still believe- because I HAVE TO BELIEVE- "Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do," and "You can do anything you set your mind to, " and "You are the leaders of today- not just tomorrow." I HAVE TO BELIEVE that your voice matters.
And in my own small way, fight to help you see that reality.
I am sorry that life is tough, but it is for us all. In different ways for sure. But I have hope that we can all do better. Be better.
I am sorry that I will fail at times, but I will never stop trying to enable success for all my students.
And my fellow human beings.
In October, twenty 5th-8th grade CSISD students showed up at our Transportation Center to learn about and apply leadership skills. The students would learn to identify campus needs, motivate teams to address those needs and complete a project (including writing grants and budgeting).
I expected students to learn a lot. And they did. As one student put it, "This was so much more than I expected it would be."
What I did not expect was how much I learned.
It Takes a Team
Sure, I knew this. I had even applied this thinking throughout my career. But always as a team member, not a team LEADER. I learned the value of delegation- not as well as I could have, but it is a progress. I learned that the best thing a leader can do is identify the strengths of their team, and find ways to empower the team to use those strengths. I saw the power of a team that knew they were believed in, and how encouragement was contagious. When one person showed up with a fire for the day, it spread quickly. I learned the value of opposing ideas. Not that we argued on our LEADS team- but we did have different opinions on how to do things. Sometimes it went as I planned, sometimes the team had better ideas and we went with them. That empowered us all.
Play is Important
We started each day with team building. Usually the action was physical- obstacle courses or spaghetti towers, or lifting hula hoops. Not only did starting with this raise energy levels, it raised engagement and relationship levels. The play also gave students an example of what the day's goal for leadership was. Sometimes it was even planned to be that way.
As educators, it is easy to take ourselves too seriously.
We don't always have to.
Change Where You Are
In my life, I have often found that when change is difficult where you are, it is easier to find a new place. These student Ambassadors showed me that change where are now is not only possible, it is preferential. They sought to change their campus culture, even though they would only be there for a year- or less- of the change's installation. They did not look around and say "I could make this change easier someplace else," they endured and made the change where they are.
As an educator, I love to look for new and better ways to do things. Sometimes it changes easily, sometimes it is hard. Sometimes there is resistance. My student's greatest lesson to me this year was to develop a willingness to stand when it is tough, to stick with something rather than to look for a way out.
It is this last lesson I want to challenge my fellow educators with. Maybe the culture where you are is not good- and leaving is what you want to do. Maybe you desire to change your role- seek administration or more leadership roles but the opportunities are not at your current campus? But ask yourself these two questions- "Who will take care of my kids when I am gone? and "Can I make a difference where I am and still grow as an educator?" Maybe the answers to these questions let you feel released to move on- maybe they do not. Maybe they give you freedom to choose either solution.
I cannot tell you what the correct answer to those questions are for you.
But I can process what the answers are for me thanks to my LEADS team.
My name is Chad, and I am addicted to fettucini alfredo.
It started in college, I would get Chicken Helper boxed dinners and make a quick meal. Later, I started getting the jars of alfredo sauce- but they tasted...bad. Finally, I found a recipe for alfredo sauce online, and began tweaking it and adding to it to make it my own. And while the amount of butter I use in my recipe will likely kill me someday- I never want to go back to boxed dinners.
I get the lure of boxed dinners- they are quick, low effort, and relatively cheap. They also use roughly one pan- so there is not much cleanup. My chicken alfredo recipe uses at least three pots and pans. It requires constant monitoring and sampling to make sure the flavor and texture is just right while the box dinner is 'perfectly' seasoned.
The truth is, in my life, I do not like the 'boxed dinner' approach. Some will say "why reinvent the wheel?" when a good program already exists. But I enjoy the design and building and flavoring that goes into making something new and fresh.
There is something about stepping back from a project that you created from scratch and feeling a sense of accomplishment- knowing that you built that. Following an existing program may get the job done, but the ownership is nor there.
LEADS, the student leadership program I developed with about a dozen fellow educators is an example of this. The program is a complete, from the ground up build. Nothing existed there before, and we used no pre-packaged programs to do it. At the same time, a great program has been started by our district at the high school level (LEADS is intermediate and middle) uses an existing, prepacked program. It is a great program, but I have very little interest in tying our program into that. One reason is that the voice LEADS has created is unique, it is its own thing. To link them would dilute that voice and the voice of the other program. I want LEADS to grow into a high school program organically and naturally and with our district's teachers fashioning it.
There is merit in the 'boxed dinner' approach. It is a great tool for new teachers or teachers who struggle on the innovation side. I used this style when my fourth prep was added this year- I simply lacked the time to develop a total class. So, I used what someone else gave me. But it was not long before I was innovating and adapting my content to fit my unique situation. Giving a common or shared curriculum is good for a start, but I believe a teacher must develop a unique voice. I fear that any move to standardize our instructional style will lead to a loss of individual voice.
Imagine you are a gourmet chef. Even after a long day of cooking, would you crack open some Hamburger Helper? Yet when a teacher is told that they should stop doing cool stuff that another teacher is not- because it is creating a lack of equity, we are giving a chef a boxed dinner. For a chef, it is not about 'reinventing the wheel,' it is about exploring the possibilities freely.
If we are truly to prize innovation, should we use pre-packaged programs on our campuses and in our classrooms? If I say no- I am doing that which I loathe- standardizing a response. So in our school pantry, there must be room for Hamburger Helper lessons AND new wheel lessons. And our 'lesson in a box' teachers AND our 'reinvent the wheel' teachers all need to feel empowered to be the best they can be. And, I believe, both can be challenged from time to time to try the other way. It helps us be more well rounded- but it also helps us see education from the perspective of our friend and colleague down the hall.
Now, if you will excuse me, this extended food metaphor has made me very hungry.
One of my favorite movies is "A Time To Kill," a movie from the 90's that served as a sort of contemporary "To Kill A Mockingbird" where a black man (Samuel L Jackson) is accused of killing two white supremacists that raped his young daughter. Because it is the South, he chooses a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) to represent him before an all white jury. In a pivotal scene, McConaughey is about to give up, and this exchange occurs:
This scene captures the heart of what it means to be an advocate. When we advocate, we have an obligation to to speak the words that our charges cannot say to the people they cannot approach. Whether we find ourselves speaking for students or for our fellow teachers, we sometimes must try to put a need or idea into a different perspective. In my last blog, I wrote about the difference between advocates and adversaries- today I want to really dive into how we can be that voice for the voiceless.
Aid Over Act and Advise
I struggle with wanting to provide a solution for someone who is struggling, instead of helping them find that solution themselves. As an advocate, I must remember that I am trying to help a person achieve something, not do it for them. Advocates will be more inclined to ask guiding questions than to tell someone what to do. When a student or a teacher comes to a solution on their own- even with our aid- they take more ownership of the decision. When a person believes that the idea is their own- because it is- their success chance increases greatly. Aside from the questioning side- we need to let the person we are advocating for have the victory themselves. If I do something for a student and get success, they can write that off as my position as a teacher being key. If a student must go to an administrator for something, my role must be background and support, but the student must feel empowered to speak for themselves. My advocacy is to embolden them enough to speak up-- and pave the way with the admin to listen to the student's need.
Wear Their Shoes
Please, do not take this literally.
We need to try to see the world from the perspective of those we advocate for. Here is an example: When students complain to me about a school rule, I try to see why they are bothered by it. Again, I ask questions. Sometimes, I am able to see that their issues arise because they do not get the 'why' of the rule. But often times, I see that they have some legitimate concerns. In those instances, I must advocate for their perspective to those in positions of authority and act as a bridge between the two perspectives. This is the difficult part, because the advocate has to try to see both sides- and what happens if the authority figure is unwilling or unable to see it from the different perspective?
That's when we remember that advocacy is a process.
Okay, this might should have come before the last point, but I really wanted to direct this point to my administrator (and aspiring administrator) friends. You will have students and teachers come to you with ideas and concerns. You will sometimes feel an immediate need to say 'no' because it does not fit your vision or plan.
I am asking you to take a minute and think about what would happen if you said 'yes.'
As a teacher, I have found myself wanting to say 'no' as a default. But when I stop and listen, sometimes the idea the student has is actually better than my vision. But I would not see that unless I thought about the possibilities of a 'yes' response.
Not every idea or complaint is good- but shutting it down arbitrarily will shut down the good ideas that might come in the future- whether the bringer is a student or a teacher.
Outsiders is a very broad term here. Yes, it means those who are actually outsiders and wallflowers and 'different.' It also means that we need to listen to voices other than the usual voices. Good leaders have good and trusted advisers. But listen to the same voices for too long, and they become an echo chamber of yes's and not critical thinkers. Department heads and star students are great to go to, but first year teachers and wallflowers need to be engaged, too.
A couple years ago, when Pecan Trail Intermediate opened in College Station, their principal Kellie Deegear invited students to not only share what they were looking for in teachers, they also sat in on some interviews. Our students are our target audience, our clients- yet we rarely seek their feedback about what kind of teachers or administrators we should hire. And do students get a say in "Teacher of the Month/Year" or is that totally decided by staff? What involvement should students have in these processes?
Advocates are honest. They tell the truth when they fall short, they tell the truth when those they are advocating for fall short. An advocate cannot spare feelings if a change is needed for success to occur. Saying "Keep doing what you're doing" is not advocating, it is softening the blow and missing the point. If there is a failure, it is better to say " They liked a lot, but here is something you need to do differently..." than give no critique at all. My debate students would rather get a harsh critique than one that says "Good job!" while ranking them low. The reason- a critique helps you improve, and that's what an advocate is for.
Being an advocate for students or teachers is a difficult task. Sometimes it means you will take a shot for the ones you are standing up for. Most of the time, it means you need to operate in the background so the other person can have their own victory. But the one constant of any true advocate is this:
They put others first.
I was once in a job- before teaching- where my boss felt I was not doing a good job. He had all sorts of accusations against my performance- that I was not being relational enough with people, that I was not meeting the particular goals set before me, etc. I felt very attacked, as I felt the exact opposite about these accusations. The boss called a meeting with some of the volunteers we worked with, and laid out his concerns. Almost immediately, the volunteers began to speak up on my behalf. They felt as I did- that things we going well. They provided instances that directly proved their opinions, and we left the meeting with the boss having realized he had misread the situation.
And I never said a word.
I had an adversary, and I had advocates in this situation. Looking back on that event, I see an application to today, to how I teach and how I interact with my students. I have a choice- to be an adversary, or to be a advocate.
Merriam Webster's definition of an adversary is above. As you can see, the key actions of an adversary are opposing and resisting. But the word that stands out to me most, is 'enemy.' If I have an adversary, I have an enemy. If my students see me as an adversary- I am THEIR enemy.
Now, Merriam Webster has the above to say about Advocates.
Now, those are important words we can get behind. And the thing is, they are all verbs with motion. See, I can support you by saying I agree with or accept you. To advocate is to actively try to improve your situation.
Taking an adversarial role often means you are taking the actions of the student personally- or at least it looks that way. It also means that your interest is more in convicting- or proving- that student wrong. To an adversary, the rule is more important than the rule breaker.
An advocate will always seek to understand the person behind the action. Even in discipline, it is about how to help the student grow and learn through the experience- it is not about being right for the advocate.
Also- note the definitions themselves. The advocate has a variety of definitions, the adversary just one. Advocates are open-minded- adversaries see only one way: theirs.
Think about your own interactions, especially in areas of discipline. Are you more Adversary, or more Advocate?
In the next blog, I want to go more into what it means to be an advocate for your kids.
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.