I find it interesting that this week's law reading for EDL600 is all about the employment of teachers, the evaluation process, and the laws and rules that govern how teachers and classified staff may or may not be dismissed, and that our essential question to be answered is not so much about the law, but about leadership. Like most people,I see law and leadership as two distinctly different things. I align law with the term 'authority', but I see leadership as something entirely different. I am a teacher who would prefer to be led by a true leader, and not just be evaluated by someone with the authority to do so. For myself I became a teacher because I was drawn to a career of service and meaning. Evaluation is part of the job. I will be evaluated. But other than the nerves that come with being under the microscope, evaluations never bother me because I am in my career for the right reasons. I work hard, I care about my students and colleagues, and I will do all I can to help my students learn and grow. I am not naive enough to think that every teacher thinks or feels that way, but most teachers I know got into the profession for the right reasons.
In my eyes, courageous conversations should be the only conversations. If a school employee is not performing to his or her best ability, the principal should absolutely have the courage to talk to the employee about performance and both parties should be willing to work on it. The leader should work hard to establish trust and a caring environment so that feedback can be accepted as a natural and needed part of the process of becoming the most effective teacher possible. Teachers don't need to be beaten into submission, in terms of performing up to the expected standard; teachers need to be led- by a leader who cares, not by just a person of authority.
I guess in any organization the law has to be set down so that there is an arena with set boundaries that everyone is aware of. In California School Law the decision of Morrison v. State Board of Education is discussed, which resulted in seven criteria known as the Morrison factors (Kemer & Sansom. 2013). These factors lined out the guidelines regarding immoral or unprofessional conduct within the teaching profession. These factors provide the boundaries of the arena regarding conduct, and help the authorities decide if a teacher in question is fit to teach. So, yes, these types of laws and boundaries do have to be in place so that there can be order. I have to say, though, that the laws, while important, are called into question, not by a majority of teachers. That is to say, most teachers are teaching because they want to teach and make a difference in the world. So for most, the laws are not much of a worry. The laws aren't what make good teachers good teachers. True leadership is what makes good teachers good teachers. A true leader will have courageous conversations with teachers and mentor them along by establishing trust and common goals. It isn't enough for leaders to say the right words. True leaders mean and feel what they say, and the employees working under that leader know a real, courageous leader when they see one. The problem is that not all "leaders" are actual leaders. Some "leaders" are just autorities. It is an important distinction.
I am a fan of Simon Sinek, an ethnographer and leadership expert who writes a lot about leaders and the traits they possess. In a talk he gave titled Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe he talks of how a true leader creates a safe environment of trust and caring, so that all parties feel part of the group and can trust that they are safe to let their gaurds down and learn. Through this kind of leadership, he argues, a natural flow of trust and cooperation ensue. When there is a natural flow of trust and cooperation, all people involved feel that they are on the same team. It can feel like family, and in a family, people aren't usually "kicked out" or shunned. Usually within a family an investment is made into each and every member, and each member can work to reach his or her best possible potential.
I was happy to hear in the interview by Dr. Cheryl Ward with Lamont Jackson, that Mr. Jackson advocated that if a principal was concerned enough about an employee's performance to send them to training, that the principal should attend the training also. I liked that because it seems like something a good leader should do. It demonstrates investment and genuine care, and that goes a long way in leading, as it builds trust. Trust is the key factor. If a teacher trusts and knows that his or her principal cares and wants him or her to be the best possible teacher for students, that teacher is likely to work hard to learn and self-evaluate, knowing that he or she can make a difference, and that the principal believes in him or her. In an environment like that, evaluations will be seen as helpful, rather than punitive. The entire posture of the interaction between teacher and principal will be more positive, and positive change is likely to happen resulting in a teacher who grows personally and in his or her practice, and also resulting in the leader not having to resort to looking at the language of the law to try to create the environment for a dismissal.
I know I am an optimist, but I do believe that true leadership can be the fix for many problems that arise in organizations, including education. Teachers are human beings, and human beings want to belong and prosper. Teaching can be a lonely profession if teachers find themselves alone in their classrooms all of the time. But courageous conversations between teachers and leaders can change that completely, by making teachers feel that they are not alone, and that they are worth the investment of time that a true leader should give. It can make all the difference in the world.
Kemerer, F., & Sansom, P. (2013). California School Law Third Edition. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Sinek, S. (2014). Why good leaders make you feel safe. Ted.com. Retrieved 24 November 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe?language=en
Ward, C. (Interviewer) & Jackson, L. (Interviewee). (2014). Human resource and the law (Interview transcript). Retrieved from https://blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/EDL600-K1-Fall2014-ExtEd/Human_resource_and_the_law_interview.swf
Here's Simon Sinek's talk on "Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe":
It struck me this morning as I woke up and realized I was officially on vacation for the Thanksgiving holiday, that this year I am grateful for more than I usually am. It is my practice to regularly reserve time and space to take stock of all that is good and abundant in my life and experience gratitude as a result. I have endless gratitude for my family, friends, our health, our safe and cozy home, our cars, and our jobs that allow us to help other people and also help us to pay our bills and live a comfortable lifestyle. Today, though, my gratitude for my job actually extends beyond that. I realized this morning that I am grateful to be learning and in service in education in this time- 2014- because it is an exciting time in our profession. Because of my experiences so far this school year with my graduate school work, changes at my school site, including site administration, and the spark and synergy I am fortunate enough to have with my colleagues at our unique school and with our unique students, I am experiencing the most vivid, and bright-with-possibilities year in my career thus far.
I am being exposed to brilliant, open minds in the education world- people who are authentic and open and willing to push over walls that have stood awkwardly in the way of authentic student learning for a long time. I am reading (A LOT), sharing resources on Twitter, and taking chances and risks with student learning and projects in the classroom. I am having enlightening conversations of depth with my colleagues, and for the first time, there is a sense of true sharing between colleagues that I work with. I have a growth mindset and have made the decision that my students will experience voice, choice, authenticity and REAL audiences when they work with me. My students are reacting with smiles, questions, enthusiasm and energy. There is an ownership of their work that is beginning to emerge, and our conversations are personalized, tailored to their needs, and many times joyfully surprising.
My gratitude springs from my experiences recently with other educators who are willing to share their thoughts, ideas, and innovation because they know that we all have the common goal of creating authentic learning opportunities for our students and supporting student success. My friend, Kiki Bispo, share this Tweet this week:
I love this because what she wrote is what I experienced for years as a teacher. But right now, I am not experiencing that. I am enjoying a great circle of educators, near and far, who are willing to share their ideas. When I sit with an energized colleague and exchange ideas, good things happen: sparks fly, one idea is refined into the next, new ideas are born, and we create unique and authentic experiences for our students. It is the best kind of leadership, to lead by sharing. For that I am grateful.
I had the pleasure of visiting some innovative schools this week, and one school in particular, Design 39 Campus in Poway USD, blew me away. It wasn't just the gorgeous architecture, stained glass, and beautiful learning spaces on 22 acres that wowed me. It was the willingness of principal Sonya Wrisley to personally take us on a two-hour tour of her campus, explaining her educational philosophies and allowing us to observe and speak with her students that impressed me most. Ms. Wrisley is a true leader, and her non-conventional ideas that her school district allowed her to implement in a public school are amazing. She explained how there are no bells at her school- only music. There isn't an administration office, there is a Welcome Center, and her office is a wide open space shared with other office staff. Student recess times aren't set in stone, just a range of time, allowing teachers to make decisions on when their students need a break. Teachers use Google Forms to solicit input from students on what topics they would like to study for Deep Dives and also for activities they would like to participate in during Minds In Motion time (P.E.). Students at D39 learn through inquiry and regularly create prototypes as research into solving problems. It is a school that I wish I could send my children to, and I am so grateful to Sonya for her willingness to share that with me and countless other people. Here's a little video I put together to share Design 39 Campus with my staff:
My gratitude this Thanksgiving includes being grateful to be part of the leadership in education that will help to create a "collective shift in imagination" and the way we do school. I am learning so much about what authentic learning looks like today, and how different it is from learning from years past. Our world is different and our learners are different. As we say at VVA, it's time to #schooldifferently. I have a list of people I have gratitude for in education, and I'd like to share it here (in no particular order). These people willingly share and inspire:
My mother, Bernadette Bruster, who has modeled life-long learning for me
My aunt, Gail Lindsay, who is a leader in her field and a mentor to me for how to lead
Erin English, who cares for kids, says yes whenever possible, and encourages authenticity
Sandra Barnes, who listens, advises, shares her owl mind and is the best cheerleader
Donna Markey, Jessie Estrada, and Mac Greenlee for listening and sharing
Doug Simon who models authentic connection with students and shares his musical gift
Victoria Curtis, who is my favorite person to collaborate with
Kiki Bispo, who shares my passion for students and many other philosophies about Life
Sarah Graybeal and Susie Bristow, who have the biggest hearts in education
Bill Daumen, who lives outside of the box and taught me the value of relationships with colleagues
Jeff Heil, who has ruined school for me forever because he allows and encourages students to explore while learning in a way that I have never been given permission to do before. Opened my mind to what is possible and makes me think.
Alicia Butters and Cheryl Ward, for being supportive and always available to communicate if needed
Sara Chai, a fellow student in my cohort who I haven't even met face-to-face yet, who has connected
so easily with me and is a natural collaborator.
Shelly Yarbrough, who is a life-long friend and educator who connected with me when I was a first-year teacher, and whose philosophies I share to this day. Miss you Shelly!
Thank you Everyone! and Happy Thanksgiving!!