It always amazes me how a single comment on Twitter can bring on a blog post.
This morning I woke up and did what I do almost every Saturday morning…I got myself a cup of coffee and sat down to read through Twitter posts. The chat #satchatwc was going on, and the participants are some of my favorite #PLN people, so I decided to jump in and attempt to catch up. The theme was “Us vs Them” and the discussion questions revolved around how we recognize this kind of behavior and ultimately stop it. Us vs them involves any groups of people where it’s possible that they are not on the same page to support student learning. This could be parents vs teachers, teachers vs admin, or even teachers vs teachers.
If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat, it’s amazing how when you’re in the right one with the right people, your mind can be swimming with ideas and realizations by the end. Sometimes all it takes is one tweet. In this case, the tweet was this one that involved Dr. Clint Freeman & one of my favorite people, Shelley Burgess:
The part of Clint’s tweet that resonated with me was the idea that the contributor to an us vs them mentality is the lens from which we view what happens around us…our perspective. Since I’ve entered education, I have been fortunate enough to be able to look through many different lenses. It has given me perspective that other people may not have. My first job was as a Family and Consumer Science teacher in middle school. During that time, I would have categorized the role I had as a teacher vs teacher. I often felt like the grade level teachers thought I “only” taught FACE while they did the “real” work. Not all teachers feel this way, but in the school I worked in at the time, this was the climate. I also worked as an elementary teacher, an instructional support teacher, and finally, my newest position in admin. I would say that in every position at every level, there was the feeling of an us vs them. The only thing that changed was who the “them” was.
It took me less than a month to experience this difference in perspective in my current position. The other day, a teacher said to me, “So, how do I go about getting a cushy office job like yours?” to which I had to choose between several responses that went through my head. I could have responded by telling that teacher that I was only running through the teacher’s lounge in order to get to the office copier, eating a granola bar for my lunch after getting up at 4:15am for the last month in order to get to work early, or how I hadn’t seen my kids three days out of the previous week because I had left before they got up in the morning and came home from work after they went to bed, or I could have told him that when I finally did make it to bed, I collapsed in exhaustion but would still wake up at 3:11am thinking about everything I couldn’t get done in a day. But, I didn’t. I wasn’t about to perpetuate any kind of preconceived notions he had about administration, nor would it have done anything for the relationships and trust I have been trying to cultivate during the first month in my position. So, I smiled and kept walking. Plus, my guess is that there have been times he’s done this same thing for his students.
Was that the right response? I have no idea. Some people think that admins should have all the answers. The truth is: I’m just trying to do the best I can for the teachers and students I serve. Just like everyone else in education.
As an Technology Integrator, people would often come up to me while I was working on my computer and start conversations with, “While you’re not doing anything…”. What they didn’t understand was that I was making a quick instructional video or creating PD for teachers or researching an educational technology tool for a teacher, but their perspective was that I wasn’t really working because I was on my computer. That’s ok, it was their perspective. What I’ve found as I’ve moved positions is that this kind of thing comes from not understanding what another person does in a day. Teachers, without a doubt, have the craziest days. So many kids, so many standardized tests, so little time to go to the bathroom…but in every position I have experienced days where I wasn’t really sure I’d make it through the day with my sanity. Sometimes, it’s just a different kind of crazy busy.
I believe that where we begin to misunderstand each other is when major decisions are made where all the information isn’t available to everyone and there isn’t a culture where trust has been established. I have already made decisions that have not been popular. The hardest decisions usually aren’t. I try to let the question, “Is it supporting student learning” to guide me, and there are factors where sometimes what’s happening absolutely does not support student learning. Not everyone always understands these factors, though, and it’s not that I’m not willing to be transparent, and I will always provide anyone with the why behind my decisions, but rather that we need to start trusting each other to be professionals and make the best decisions for students. If that trust is broken, then that builds on the us vs them mentality. So, as usual, my conclusion is that, like everything else, the us vs them mentality begins and ends with relationships (or a lack thereof) and trust. The best way to develop empathy is to actually walk in a position’s shoes, but second to that is building a culture where all “groups” have faith in each other’s decisions. As an admin specifically, if you’ve built trust in staff by being consistent in decision-making (all decisions are guided by the mission, vision, and what’s best for all learners), being visible and involved in classrooms, and knowing staff both personally and professionally, they don’t need to have walked a day in your shoes in order to trust your decisions. They are more likely to trust in you, and in turn your decisions, and hopefully that reduces (if not eliminates) the Us vs Them mentality.