The discussion at my school is frustrating at the moment, but I’m glad it’s happening. We’re very lucky to be the unique free, public, non-profit hybrid that we are. We have time every day as a staff to talk about our 85 students, our practice, and about what makes us tick. In the past, I’ve struggled to get any time to talk to other teachers or leaders (in my building). It was rare to sit down and really dig into an issue like, “Why do we take attendance?” or “Do we need grades to educate children?” These question are revolutionary and unwieldy enough in and of themselves, tossing them casually out into the arena of most groups of teachers elicits chaos at best, but maybe just intellectual indolence.
In our school, I’m so happy that we have the time to drop mice into these questions and watch them nose their toward an exit. Maybe we get a bit frantic while we’re trapped in dialogues like this, but their very presence and our willingness to engage in them, is unique and noteworthy.
When you have to face other people each day after a skirmish–read: tough conversation–you tend to go about that interaction differently than if you could just crawl back into your own corner of the school. You end up drawing many different things from the dialogue beyond who “won.” Too often in my previous experiences, there were clear winners and losers in the battle for time and attention in teacher meetings. People knew who had the power and what attitude would prevail; “rightness” was a matter of status quo, leverage, and pomp.
In my school this year, there’s the hope for benefiting from tough conversation. We have honest discussions about microcosmic events in teaching and learning. We STRUGGLE to learn why we do and don’t do certain things. No matter whose opinion dominates the discussion, there isn’t a lingering sense of competition, seniority, or eye-rolling.
Today, we had such a discussion. My blood pressure spiked. I had to dig deep to stay in the mix. Everyone was making volleys and bumping tough shots at one another, but fallen teammates were never left alone in the sand. We weren’t arguing because we each wanted to be committee chair, sponsor of X, Y, or Z, or some special kind of authority; we just wanted to figure out what would honestly help promote the most learning in our school building.
At the end of the day, we’re all teachers, learners, and strugglers in life. When we cease to strive for solutions to those toughest problems, we become impotent to make the changes necessary to grow the little learners and future teachers that we call “students.” So, is my school perfect? Far from it. Are we trying? As hard as possible, and as earnestly as we can.