Saturday, September 28, 2013
The Way It Ought To Be
This week, as I began to settle in, and my student teacher has started to assert herself in the classroom, I was once again struck with something. Our school is undergoing significant changes. This year there are five new teachers (or at least new again…) or about 20 percent of the certified staff, we will welcome a new administrator for the first time in nine years, and there are new people beginning to emerge as leaders. One thing I have noticed thus far, is a positive energy from many of the people in the building. Another, is a higher level of communication between teachers.
When I discussed our new administrator’s arrival (this Tuesday) with a good friend at work, I shared both my concerns and my hopes. This new arrival will be very difficult in many ways. The learning curve will be high, the atmosphere very different, and oh yeah… it is a contract year. The final concern is the greatest. With a new, eager administrator looking to get started, we could be in for any number of rustled feathers. How we as a staff react and welcome him, and his response in turn during this potentially tumultuous process will shape the future of the school, its staff, and the families that trust us with their students. It is a relationship that must build with trust and mutual respect in order for both sides to feel comfortable enough to promote growth while leaving neither so comfortable that the school remains stagnant.
As teachers, we will ideally extend our welcome beyond words and attempt to work with our new chief whenever possible. Contract negotiations can often inhibit the willingness of people to go out of their way to help (sad but true.)
This conversation led me however, to another equally important thought while shaping the future of our small school. Working well collaboratively is essential to improving school-wide instruction. Last year I had the great fortune of working with a tremendous educator for whom I have great respect. While I have worked with excellent educators in the past as grade-level partners, this year was different. It was different not because she was necessarily better than any other teacher I have worked with, it was different because I felt that by working together, we made each other better and ultimately it benefited our students significantly. There is something to be said for pairing teachers together that develop strong teaching chemistry. I hope that when I am in charge of teacher placements, I can remember to keep it in mind. Some people just work well together, while others do not. While I enjoyed the paradigm of collaborative teaching environments, two other teachers (both of whom I respect) experienced the exact opposite. Neither could agree on anything, and unfortunately their conflicting styles as teachers, and people, led to a lack of communication and collaboration that genuinely hurt the class. It was not that they were bad teachers, its that they were bad together. I have seen other teachers work great together in the past, while some typically do not. Much like mixing the ingredients of a recipe, the combination of teachers, students, and support from other areas can lead to a something genuinely magnificent when done correctly, while the wrong mix can be to the detriment of everyone involved. Ultimately, a good leader must be a master at understanding the people with whom they work. They must work well enough with each person to help bring out the best in them, whatever it is they need.
Creating competition in schools could lead to the destruction of these best types of these relationships, while fostering collaboration and careful understanding of the staff in your building can lead to amazing educational opportunities for all of our students. As teachers, we should be striving to learn how to blend our skills with that of those around us to provide the best opportunities for our students. As leaders, we should seek to know and understand the strengths of our staff in ways that enable us to create collaborative environments that inspire success.
Either way, starting next week, we will have a new leader in the school. By trying to create and foster a collaborative environment with him as well as the other teachers around us, we will find ourselves pushing the school forward in a most positive direction. My greatest hope, is that he continues to get to know us as both educators and as people, so that he can learn how to work with each person to bring out their best abilities.
Thanks for reading