Okay, teachers: when’s the last time you sat in a staff meeting and had a truly student-centered, collaborative conversation without wanting to find out how far from the walls your own head would bounce?
No? Anyone? You in the back, playing HQ trivia on your knee under the table when 3 pm falls during pd time?
Isn’t it great when it actually happens, though?
Snideness aside, I do work with some fantastic, dedicated teachers and have high hopes that collaboration will improve, since we finally have some sort of administrative stability in my district. For the first 11 years, though, there was a different admin team (building through Central Office) literally yearly- I mean, people were whizzing through these jobs with the longevity of your typical Trump hire, and that doesn’t really bode well for, you know, trust or fidelity to the idea of committing to any long-term initiative. Doesn’t matter how great the leadership is if the ducks stay lame for over a decade. People generally just hid in their own bubbles, focused on their own students, and did the best work they could by themselves.
But I know what the larger-scale ideal can look like, and yo: we have to keep shooting for that.
Quite a few years ago, I started representing my staff at district union meetings since- well, to be honest, since nobody else would do it and I thought it was a big deal.
Because of my inability to sit down and shut up (more the latter than the former; I’m actually world class at sitting and I practice variations of it daily) I injected myself during the first meeting into a contentious debate about teacher evaluation and said something that must have reflected one of my less idiotic musings (ex: why is there only one rapper named Common?) because the president hijacked me after the meeting for further conversation. And as a result, she singlehandedly changed my entire professional life.
She introduced me to effective teaming. She brought me into groups of thoughtful educators within and outside of my district representing varied, nuanced perspectives, and she welcomed me at conferences (TURN, specifically, which you should absolutely check out if you’re in the US and your d is into research-based effective practice and social justice through labor/management collaborations) that challenged my thinking about how I do my job.
And those teams actually had focused conversations about how to do good work together. People didn’t always agree, but I was leaving meetings- meetings!- with a sense of having worked hard with a group of like-minded people who sometimes even got to make funny jokes. And I was inspired to improve my practice.
It was so satisfying.
I’m sitting in the same kind of meeting now, in Singapore, with a bunch of teachers collaborating on student conduct grades. Form teachers (like a homeroom or advisory teacher) gave initial impressions, but all educators who work with each student- they go through them individually- can give evidence that informs where a kid would fall on the rubric.
I’ve been here an hour already, and this team has been on task the whole time, can respectfully disagree with each other while talking through the evidence they’ve gathered, and sometimes laugh, even, without going into a tangential wormhole. There are 33 adults in this room and they’re going through each of their children thoughtfully and with love.
I’m totally inspired. It reminds me how many teachers are willing to do this work with a positive attitude- they’ve been here since 7 am, will be here until at least 5, and I don’t know where they all live but my commute is over an hour so they can’t all be close- when there’s so much else to be done, too.
I look at teachers I work with, and teachers here, and teachers all over my social media feeds who are doing way more than the average troll knows. So much of it is thankless and emotionally exhausting work, but it’s so, so important to do together and to do well.
Cheers, y’all. Thanks for doing the best work. I’m excited to connect with you again.