One of the many challenges we have in public education is complacency. I truly believe that most teachers enter the profession for the right reasons. They want to make a difference, they want to impact the lives of children, and they want to shape our society’s future. This has been proven over and over again in my conversations with teachers at all levels of education. Unfortunately over decades with various challenges and often a lack of recognition, cynicism can set in. This often leads to the complacency and negativity that pervade many of our experienced educators. Do not get me wrong, they are not bad people, they are reacting to the stimulus our society has given them.
We need to learn from this as the next generation of educators is coming forth. Criticism and bemoaning public education (their profession) will yield the same results. Sending out letters to all the families of students saying the schools are doing a poor job does not help the people do a better job. It applies pressure to the school district as an institution but it is a source of discouragement for staff. This approach has to stop. We need to stop advertising failure and begin to foster and recognize excellence. If we lead by becoming excellent positive leaders our credibility to demand excellence in teaching will be greatly increased.
We have seen this pattern all too well in the lives of our kids. Which coach will be more successful, #1, the coach who berates a player in front of his teammates every time he makes a mistake, or #2, the coach who looks to find what the player is doing correctly and looks to expand that into the areas where they struggle. Coach #1 is trying to shame the player into change while Coach #2 is leading him and enabling him to change. I strongly believe we need to take the latter approach with our teachers. Initiatives like continuous improvement models and focused professional development can be cornerstones in this effort.
So returning to the coaching analogy, what if the player is being rebellious and not following instructions? At this point Coach #1 says shape up or possibly even begins to ignore that player, in extreme situations he may even kick them off the team. Coach #2 lays out a series of consequences very calmly and clearly for the player, he then follows through and if the player will not shape up he is ultimately removed from the team. Once again Coach #2 is providing a path to success, enabling the player to change. Berating and degrading the player does not work. Even our military services are moving away from this training model. Fear is certainly not the motivation we want out teachers to feel when working with our students.
Accountability and the demand for excellence MUST extend to our classrooms. Being positive and encouraging does not mean there will not be consequences and discipline for those that refuse to join in. It is the way it is done that must be modified. The current typical approach and that of No Child Left Behind erodes self confidence and ultimate moves us away from excellence. One of the key pieces I have witnessed is an administration and superintendent that are leaders but also teachers. Some of your very best leaders have an obvious teaching gift, we need administrators that can teach our staff and guide them to excellence. I believe this can be accomplished because of what I stated in the beginning. Most teachers enter the profession for the right reasons, we need leaders to help them achieve their potential, not “whip” them into shape.