If I could choose one of my goals in which I was guaranteed to make happen prior to leaving education, it would be to create leaders who are engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and are willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones. I want people to love their jobs. I want them to make the people around them love their jobs. Students are watching our EVERY MOVE. If we model our love for learning and education, the students will most likely follow suit.
To me, to support teacher leaders in reaching the level where they feel this way about their profession and working with kids would be the ultimate accomplishment. Ideally, every education professional should have the potential and motivation to do just this, but I honestly think that there is a hierarchy of needs that needs to be met to reach professional “actualization”. We often talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs when looking at students and why or why not they might be successful in their learning, but I think that when you look at adults and their professional lives, a similar case could be made.
So, for example, if a teacher struggles with belonging in their grade level team, how does that affect their ability to try something new or think innovatively? When you spend so much of your time outside your comfort level just by being with the people that you work closely with, are you willing to push outside your comfort zone in other areas?
Another example: if potential leaders don’t feel like their jobs are secure or they don’t feel safe in their jobs for various reasons, how much can we expect that they are willing to become engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones? There are many reasons that teachers might not feel safe (physically, mentally, and emotionally) even though that might sound ridiculous at a school. I worked in a school where some students with behavior issues were becoming violent, and teachers and paraprofessionals were being bruised and injured by students on a regular basis. The anxiety of being injured by an angry student could affect the feeling of being safe, and I’m positive that this is not a specific incidence, but instead more commonplace than the public would even believe.
I’ve also been involved in situations where employees are nervous for their jobs for various reasons that might or might not have to truly do with their performance (political, cultural, budget cuts, errant leadership). If any employee doesn’t feel like their positions are safe, or they feel like they could be “fired” for trying something new, they will be less likely to rock the boat. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we want these leaders to do, whether they reside in administration roles or teacher roles. We WANT them rocking the boat, thinking innovatively, pushing others to do the same. Yet, if they don’t feel safe to try new ideas, don’t feel safe to fail because their jobs are on the line, they will be less likely to do these things.
Many issues that can stop a potential leader from moving forward and reaching a level of professionalism that would keep them fulfilled and provide them with opportunities to create real change reside within issues in the climate and culture of the district. Realistically, shifts in climate and culture need to happen in order to truly give everyone this chance, but while they are happening and everyone is shifting into the new normal, here’s my question:
How can you create much-needed change in a classroom or district when in order to stay safe you feel you need to maintain the status quo, but to create the change you need to rock the boat?
I’m not actually sure I have the answer to this. So many times I feel districts are wrapped up in every new initiative that they subscribe to, that they forget to go back to the basics. (climate, culture, mindset, effective leadership, embedded support). They forget that every teacher, like every student, has different needs and personalities, and in order to bring them up to being the professionals that they desire to be, we need to give them the support they need to not only function, but then excel as well. So, what can a professional do to move forward when their basic needs aren’t being met? Is there a way to recognize those needs and get them met even if the source is external? As a district administrator, how can I find these needs and support the staff to create the leaders that rock the boat? And how do I find and support the teachers who have been told to sit down so often, that they don’t remember what it’s like to stand up?