I just finished the last of five very different but very meaningful “opening week” sessions inside of the schools that I work in long term. It’s inspiring to watch teachers begin the year by engaging in collaborative goal setting and planning for a year of individual or team-directed professional development, particularly when not so long ago, conversations like this seemed close to impossible. Everything from wonky scheduling to tight resources to lack of protocols to fear to blatant resistance stood in the way of this kind of learning and work. But more and more often now, the schools that I serve are using these critical first days to kick off or reignite sustained initiatives that are driven by collegial learning models, and it’s very clear that teachers and administrators alike are energized by this shift.
These changes were inspired by visioning work that was completed at different levels within each system. It was instigated by savvy administrators who knew that truly empowering teachers would require a bit of quiet leadership, and while they made the district’s expectations relevant to improved performance very clear, they invited their teachers, their students, and in some cases, parents and other staff members to begin articulating their vision for how that improvement could be realized. This took time, but it was often eye-opening.
What I’ve learned is that while our methods may vary and while the pathways that we choose to take may look very different, in the end, educators who do good work for the right reason often share a very common vision. It isn’t impossible to achieve alignment, and in my experience, it is far more effective to approach visioning work in this way than it is to impose a district-defined vision on a staff that hasn’t been a part of the creative process, particularly when they feel devalued and unheard. When vision becomes a statement that titled leaders need to “hammer home” at the start of every meeting or workshop or plc session, I have to wonder if it’s even valid to call those words a vision. When individuals are asked to share their own dreams and ideals however, and when these visions are honored and distinguished by the district as something worth aligning to, everyone realizes that they have something profound–or even simple—to contribute. And they do. The most successful administrators that I have worked with truly appreciate the varied expertise and perspectives of their staff, even the ones they loudly disagree with from time to time (or often). They realize that it’s teachers and kids and parents and support people who know what kids need best–and they listen, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. They are reaping the rewards of that too, and I’m not merely referring to improved test scores. Something else my experiences are suggesting? Test scores might just be one of the easier things to improve inside of schools.