By Calvin J. Stocker, Teaching Excellence Instructional Coach
It’s usually during the spring months that we find moments to reflect on the work we have participated in over the past year and look forward to the next year. As many of us consider the work we have done thus far to promote educational equality for our students, we’ve likely thought about the relationships that we have forged in our day-to-day work, the efficiency of our processes, the quality of our work, and how we can enhance all of this in the future to create even better experiences for our students.
Recently, as I was re-organizing a book shelf of mine to make room for more titles, I re-visited two books that impacted my outlook on how we approach educational reform. The books, Finding Our Way (2005) and Leadership and the New Science (1999) by Margaret J. Wheatley, were core manuscripts for a couple of my graduate school classes on instructional leadership. I remember spending countless hours each evening pouring over the words of Ms. Wheatley and her brilliant educational essays, attempting to find my own way in the critical work that we do. Let’s just say, like many of you, I am still navigating the terrain and learning so much from the brilliant minds I have the honor to serve beside.
Many evenings surrounding these texts in graduate school were spent with profound dialogue and passionate responses among classmates about how to shape the culture of a campus, become motivational leaders, structure systems for campus/system improvement, increase stakeholder engagement, and ultimately, provide our students with the absolute best educational experience imaginable. I would like to say that Ms. Wheatley gave our cohort the solutions we all needed to solve the problems facing education today, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Ms. Wheatley’s book challenged everything we knew to be true about solving problems in education today. What she did give us though ended up being one of the most valuable tools I have come to find in educational/classroom reform.
Let’s consider the concept of “change” on a broader level: As suggested by Wheatley (1999), change only occurs when it is determined to be the only way for someone or something to preserve itself (p. 20). We are hard-wired to avoid change unless it threatens our current existence, though we know extrinsically that development and innovation are critical to the improvement of our organizations, classrooms, and students’ future opportunities. So you’re probably wondering, how do we alter this and create an environment of both dramatic and continuous improvement?
In order to create impactful change, we need to include as many people as possible in our daily decisions to challenge our processes, our instruction, and more broadly, our tendencies. It’s absolutely impossible for one person to see all of the connections, so we must create opportunities to help us see them. Even in a seemingly isolated profession such as teaching, you have many opportunities to engage others in your work and help you have a bigger impact. The following are some ways to consider approaching involving others in your work and gaining another perspective:
Think Local and Act Local
|We’re not talking about buying produce here… As you interact with people this week at work, write their names down and make a quick note about something they do that you want to improve in. This “thing” could be large or small. In fact, most of the time it is the small changes/improvements that have the largest impact. Once you have a solid list, it’s time to act. Ask these people if they would be willing to show you, explain a process to you, or allow you to shadow them. These interactions do not need to take that long. In fact, gaining feedback or another perspective on something might take less than 30 seconds.|
|This is one of the most common strategies for involving others in our work, though it tends to be underutilized because we don’t want to: 1) Bother other people, 2) Potentially lose time, or 3) Leave ourselves vulnerable to critical feedback. This can be difficult, yet the rewards/benefits are usually worth it. Make a goal to request feedback on at least one thing in the next 24 hours. Maybe it’s an important email, an assignment you created, or the basic organization of a lesson plan. I think you’ll find that the “fruits” of efforts will far supersede the time spent on making the request. You will likely also learn something you never knew before. Requesting feedback expresses your humility and also makes the person you are asking more likely to request your input on something in the future.
P.S. Be sure to push others to give you at least one “grow.” Oftentimes people will tell us what they think we want to hear (e.g. “Looks great!” “Wow… I wouldn’t change a thing.”). Advocate for your development and request that they find at least one thing that could be improved.
People Support What They Create
|Involving others in the creation of something is the quickest way to gain feedback, another perspective, and be challenged. The next time you create a lesson plan, a homework assignment, or anything else you do on campus, ask someone else to be a part of it. It might even be someone who you typically do not work with. Send someone on another campus, who teaches the same grade-level or content, and ask them if they are in need of developing the same thing/want to assist. I’m certain that the collective output will be far superior to what would have been created individually.|
Sit Next to Someone Else
| It sounds simple and like we are talking about the lunchroom cafeteria. Well, we kind of are…
We’re creatures of habit. Whether it is at meetings, content days, or even in the faculty lounge, we tend to locate ourselves in the same position and next to the same people all the time. This means that we tend to request feedback, gain input, and collaborate with the same people all the time. This also means that the same people influence our work all the time. The next time you sit down, consider changing your physical location to impact who you receive feedback from. As Wheatley (1999) emphasized, “[W]here you are depends on who you meet” (p. 71).
Each of these strategies will help connect you to more perspectives than you’re currently used to. Doing so will not only improve your organization, your instructional practices, and the opportunities afforded to your students, but it will also improve you. Involve everyone who cares. Both you and your students deserve it.
All my best,
Calvin J. Stocker
How do you involve others in your work? Please share your thoughts with us.