Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is School an Inspiring Place to Work?

...my guess is your first thought was, "yes." My second guess is it has something to do with your perception of this grandiose and oversimplified idea that working with kids is the single most gratifying thing you can do on earth.

And truthfully, I don't disagree. My time in the classroom was gratifying beyond explanation. No person I've ever tried to articulate it to (outside of fellow teachers) truly understood how much I loved being a part of my student's lives, and how damn hard I worked because of them. And that's fine. It comes with the territory.

That said, I'm not talking about the kind of inspiration teachers get from their kids. There's plenty of that to go around. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the inspiration that comes from above.

How do leaders create the conditions for teachers to feel inspired? To have a sense of belonging? To feel empowered and valued as the professionals they are?

Last week I had the privilege of attending the EdLeader21 conference in Atlanta, and Russ Quaglia was a featured speaker. Dr. Quaglia's work for the better part of FOREVER has focused on bringing student voice into the classroom, and the rich impact it has on learning.

He also touched on teacher voice.

Now, here it is. I've thought a lot about student voice and how critical it is. As a teacher, it was at the forefront of my mind every day. Exaggerate, I do not. It was something I decided early on in my career was a non-negotiable, and I made every attempt to get to know my students, take a genuine interest in their thoughts, passions, and dreams, and authentically incorporate them into the learning. It was fun. So damn fun.

Now that I'm out of the classroom, I've done a much crappier job of being so attentive to teacher voice, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how equally important it is.

While I'm beyond happy with the professional choices I've made, if I ever daydream about another career, it always involves working in some hip startup with open walls, convertible seating arrangements, rooms full of whiteboard, and sticky notes, and evidence of deliberation, the cliche pool table, and the prosaic bring-your-dog-to-work employee policy.

Why is it a daydream? No, it's not because the fridges are always stocked with quinoa salads and I can wear a T-shirt confirming my support for marriage equality (not to say those things aren't pretty rad).

It's because environments built for innovation and thought and positive deviants breed innovation and thought and positive deviants. And those breed ideas, and they're put into place, and the consequences of creative inspiration become tangible solutions.

Ok, ok -- I'll step back. I have many friends who work in the aforementioned types of places, and it's the not exactly the rosy picture I've painted. But it does speak to a concerted effort on the part of leaders to value the thoughts, ideas, and contributions of the professionals they employ.

How do we create similar opportunities and conditions for teachers? How do we lay the foundations for quality and research based initiatives whilst considering the voice of teachers who are the only ones who can anticipate what it will look like in their classrooms? How do we value new ideas and radical intentions within the constraints of countless protocols, standards, and six period days?

How do we afford the same respect, voice, and dignity to teachers that we require they exhibit to their students? There are lots of ways, and I think we've got many in place. But it's far from a finished exercise, and every educator who plays a part in crafting the teachers' everyday experience should be considering the question.


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