There are a lot of difficult conversations going on around me lately, in every school that I am working in. Everyone is calling for meaningful change, which is never an easy call to answer, and as we begin treading those very deep waters, the threat of drowning in an ocean of need becomes very real.
This week, I’m appreciating the fact that the work I’m involved with has been guided by a clear purpose. Much thought went into defining what teachers wanted to accomplish and understanding what they felt success might look like in the short and the long term. Naming goals and the outcomes aligned to them was essential at the outset in that it provided vision. Now that we’re beginning to navigate the choppy waters of change, our purpose acts as a compass and guide, ensuring that our energies are devoted to reaching the shore rather than swimming against the ever-present undertow.
There are many forces that threaten to pull us under. Resources are always limited, and resistance always remains a challenge that we can learn from. Conflict is a necessary and healthy part of the process. It’s an uncomfortable one, though, and many groups remain unable to navigate these storms successfully.
Adhering to certain norms becomes a must. When groups are unwilling to explore, embrace, and exhibit standards of professional practice, conversations are often guided by heavily biased misinformation, and the potential for anyone to successfully reach landfall drops significantly. Allowing our frustrations to devolve into finger pointing and gossiping only serves to poison the waters and contaminate the very relationships that could be serving to sustain us.
Without this susteneance, apathy prevails, and apathy is no force against the undertow. Purpose, intention, and action are. Defining group norms and valuing professional practices help get us there. We ask our students to adopt certain behaviors and values when they come together to learn. It’s important that educators do the same. We need to take the work that we do seriously, if we seriously want to effect change.
I love the analogy of learning to swim.
Change is such a difficult thing for some, and is very personal. Marzano’s Leadership that works talks about level 1 and level 2. Level 1 is a simple change in what we do, level 2 is more radical. This is where it becomes personal,individual feelings on change differ from person to person.
When acting as an agent of change, we too are open to some difficulties. We,the leaders, need to look at some of 21 characteristics that Marzano identifies and apply them to in order to help people go through the change.
Going back to the pool and learning how to swim…some of us need swimmies, some a life jacket and some need only a little assistance. The swim teachers need to allay fears, give gentle suggestions and even cheer lead at times.
All this being said safety is critical. I agree with the concept of norms, the behaviors that ensure safety and success for everyone. The “pool” rules need to be posted and reviewed before we begin and reinforced along the way.
I agree, Joe–these are all important points. Also, I think we tend to conceive of professionalism only in terms of what it implies relevant to “good” or “appropriate” behavior, when there is so much more involved in practicing professionalism. Defining the dimensions of that and attending to it with intention can help everyone be more successful, you’re right.
“When groups are unwilling to explore, embrace, and exhibit standards of professional practice, conversations are often guided by heavily biased misinformation, and the potential for anyone to successfully reach landfall drops significantly. Allowing our frustrations to devolve into finger pointing and gossiping only serves to poison the waters and contaminate the very relationships that could be serving to sustain us.”
You stated this so well. As professionals, we all need to act professionally. This is often something very difficult to achieve when we somehow threatened – or what we have come to know that is safe and easy is somehow being challenged. In going along with your swimming analogy, it is perhaps the same feeling one feels when facing that panicky feeling of potential drowning. Staying calm, thinking clearly, and cooperating with those there to help are critical when this happens, and often those who are comfortable swimming the waters are best to steer clear of those thrashing out in a state of panic to avoid personal harm. The same holds true when we are pushed or challenged… perhaps out of our comfort zones. There are rules, rule-followers, rule-breakers, and those who simply panic and lash out as a way to defend their own paradigms.
I think everyone recognizes one who models exemplary professional practice. They become leaders in their own right and inspire their own students to become learners rather than simply students.