We are very intentional in our work to make change and trying make teachers feel safe and respected in our endeavors to change students’ lives. I’m very careful to avoid using words like ‘successful’ and ‘right’ because I think it promotes previous stereotypes and mindsets that things have to be done a certain way and/or failure is the worst thing in the world.
Recently, one of our teachers gave us a great compliment during her midyear progress talk. It really floored me and inspired this blogpost. This is our 3rd year in our iPad 1:1 deployment, my second year here at West Rowan Middle. With a new principal, assistant principal and instructional design coach, we essentially have a new leadership team. There is a lot being asked of teachers – from us and the district and we are aware of this. I know I am asking them to reconsider a lot of fundamentals about education they hold on to or value. This is tough for anyone. But during our talk, this teacher-leader spoke a lot of the fact that this change is needed change and it has to happen at our school if we are going to be responsive to student needs. That was good to hear but not the great part.
She talked about her conversations with other teachers, in and mostly outside of our building and their feelings on change and support. She created a powerful image of teachers being unsure of a lot of things, hesitant of new conversations, trainings and directions. Even visits to classrooms were stressful for some because people never knew where conversations would go or what they reaction they could expect. But she finished her talk by saying, ‘I’m not afraid of the door handle.’
She’s referring to a new direction our team has taken since I’ve joined West Rowan Middle to not just visit classes but also to provide immediate feedback and make sure we are having growth conversations with teachers -taking the ‘gotcha’ out of growth and change. But in the bigger context, she also meant that she is not afraid or leary of having conversations or trying new things that may come up in conversations with us or anyone else. It was validating to hear. To say it made my day is an understatement.
A lot gets lost or neglected in our efforts to lead people in these endeavors and it takes purposeful work and attention to make sure we are connecting with and growing our teachers. Change is hard and leading change is a significant endeavor. Point of clarity – if you think you are leading initiatives you are mistaken, it important to remember you are leading people. And people come in all flavors of confidence, competence, tolerance and understanding. A good leader’s job is to balance all the needs of the people in our school and differentiate support as much as possible.
Our talk has made me reflect on some of the things we have done this past 1.5 years to help ease the fear of our ‘opening classroom doors’:
- Transparency – When we develop plans or figure out next steps or are considering shifts, we immediately start sharing what we can. We want staff involved as much as possible – the more input the better. Flatten the organization;
- Conversations – Nothing will ever replace having a good conversation because nothing is more important than building relationships with staff – letting them know they are priority in our mission to reach and support kids;
- Empowering Teacher Leaders – Its a myth that one person can change a school single-handedly. If you’re a principal, get over that fact. If you’re a teacher, embrace the fact that your students need you to be a positive voice of change in your school;
- Visibility – We have to be in classrooms more than our offices. If administrators are visiting classrooms and kids asking ‘Who is that person’, something is wrong. I love the fact that our kids know of my fondness for my selfie stick – I want them to know me. Same for teachers, when we come into the classroom, they don’t get shaken they maintain an instructional pace. The real work comes later when we have growth conversations about the visit – ‘What can we do to get better?’ Having good working relationships help us have those conversations;
- Building up Collaboration – I use the saying, frequently, that I don’t make big decisions in the hallways. When a concern comes up, I bring in the group the decision affects for the discussion. I do make a point to be in the discussion if needed but I want to build capacity and trust in our teachers to make student centered decisions.
Do what you can everyday to lessen the fear of hearing the door open.