Freebies

Freebies
Freebies

Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Teacher Leadership: Mama NEVER Said There'd Be Days Like This



There's this picture book with which I bet almost all elementary teachers are familiar: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Raise your hand if you know this book.  For those of you who aren't, it's a story about a tree that gives everything it has to a boy that depends on it.  When the boy is young, the tree provides a play space. When the boy is older, it provides shade.  When the boy becomes a man, the tree provides the ultimate sacrifice...its wood for a house for the boy turned man. When the boy is an old man, it provides a place to sit...its stump. Teachers everywhere love this story.  It is THE ultimate story about self-sacrifice and giving. 

Come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy. 
                                                                                    ---Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Indulge me for just a moment.  What if teachers adore this story because it is a noble parable and  metaphor for teachers and public education?  I don't know about you, but lately, I feel like Silverstein's giving tree. 

I wish that I could give you something, but I have nothing left...I am just an old stump.
                                                                                      ---Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Teacher Leadership
Teacher Leadership has been a buzz word in education for the last 10 years or so. But, what is teacher leadership, really?  I asked some colleagues of mine in West Virginia, Arizona, Massachusetts and Michigan.  Here's a snapshot of the varying definitions:

  • Teacher leadership is just code for, "We have something else we want you to tackle, and we'll call you a leader while you do it."
  • Teacher leadership is leading professional development for your school district.
  • Teacher leadership is sitting on school improvement committees.
  • Teacher leadership means doing more work for free.
  • Teacher leadership means implementing district initiatives first, before everyone else tries them.
  • In my district, teacher leadership is synonymous with  saying, "Yes."
  • Teacher leadership is engaging in professional dialogue about best practices.
  • Teacher leaders don't have personal lives.
It was interesting to hear the variety of responses from friends and colleagues, some positive, some negative. 

The whole concept of teacher leadership has been nagging at me over the last month.  Why? I identify myself as a leader.  In current and past districts I've worked for, I think I've been viewed as such.  But what does that mean? 

Recently, I sat in a meeting and listened to an initiative being rolled out.  While I understand the push behind the initiative, I whole-heartedly disagree with how it has been designed.  Everything in me screams, "This is wrong. This is wrong for kids. This is NOT best-practice. Many aspects of this are in direct opposition with what we know about how kids learn."  I was not alone in my beliefs, not by a long shot.  Yet, I was the only one who spoke up.  I spoke up because I feel the need to be respected as a professional, and I feel the need to protect my practice and my students.  In the days that followed this meeting, people came out of the wood work to thank me for saying something, to thank me for "sticking up for us."

Leadership is Lonely
Leadership is lonely.  That has been my experience over 24 years of teaching.  I understand why teachers don't speak up.  I understand fear of reprisals, bullying, exhaustion, and the disempowerment of our profession. I even understand the apathy that comes from feeling like we don't have a voice anymore. I'm not going to lie. I cried that day, on my way home from school.  I cried because I'm working as hard as I can. I cried because my colleagues feel so defeated, they don't have the courage to stand up and say, "Wait a minute! This needs more discussion." I cried because I was scared and nervous to be the only public voice objecting.   I cried because I'm losing faith that anyone is really listening or trying to understand. 

I recently facilitated professional development about Cultures of Thinking: The Eight Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart. I had an epiphany while preparing and reading for my workshop.  Ritchart defines culture as a group of people telling a common story.  If we're part of a culture, that means we influence the story.  We need to reclaim our voices.  Because they matter.  Because we ARE part of the culture. Because it is IMPERATIVE for our well-being as professionals and for the well-being of our students. 

How can we demand and expect others treat us with respect when we don't even treat ourselves with respect? 

In an abusive spousal relationship, often the first step to liberation and safety is to say, "Enough."

If we don't treat ourselves with the respect professionals deserve, then we will not be respected.

The Giving Tree Phenomena
This week in the state of Michigan, our state government has decided to retain all third graders who do not pass the state's reading benchmark.  They did this in the face of research and data that proves that retention is detrimental to students. They do not care about educators or the children we teach


This week in the state of Michigan, legislators have begun plans to dismantle our pension system, in a way that may cause the whole thing to implode  ( https://meamatters.com/2016/10/07/pension-attack-what-is-the-mea-doing-and-what-you-should-do/ ).

Teachers are STILL waiting for the return of the 3% taken from us, illegally. Fire and police have had theirs returned to them.  But Michigan's governor is appealing AGAIN (http://www.mea.org/tell-snyder-and-schuette-return-550-million-stolen-michigan-school-employees ).

And on a national stage, this headline has been making its rounds... "FACT: Donald Trump's Education Plan Would Mass-Fire Teachers And DECIMATE Pell Grants" (http://addictinginfo.org/2016/10/05/fact-donald-trumps-education-plan-would-fire-over-490000-teachers-and-decimate-pell-grants/ ).

I could go on and on.  We have seen an onslaught of scary legislation and attacks on public education and educators.  One day a year, teachers are honored with coffee mugs and Facebook memes, but the other 364 days a year are a different story.  We can all be Wonder Woman or Superman...we can be giving trees.  It's true, being an educator requires a degree of self-sacrifice.  However, should we really think so poorly of ourselves that we don't deserve livable wages, a solvent pension system, or adequate resources with which to teach our kids?  Should we really zip our lips when educational policy and funding promises to educationally maim our students? 

Does being a teacher leader really mean saying "Yes" at all costs or zipping our lips when things aren't right? 

This is what has been burning in  my brain over the last month. I implore you, if you're a Michigan teacher, use the link below to speak up and stand up to your representative, over and over again until you are heard.  If you're not in Michigan, I implore you to speak up in your culture.  Reclaim your voice.  We can't afford to be passive or apathetic any longer.

                                                                                   Until next time, teach on.





Find your Michigan representative here.


To read more thought-provoking posts from other educators around the country, check out the links below.



18 comments

  1. Let me add my voice to those thanking you for your leadership, and for not being afraid to say what is on the minds of those sitting all around you. Another amazing post from the Wild Child, who has always understood and been guided by the true meaning of leadership!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a tough time to be a teacher. But that doesn't mean we should sit back quietly. No one knows what being a teacher is like unless they are one, they are married to one, or they are informed by one. And that's the part we need to do. Thank you for your role in pushing teachers to speak out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was such a fantastic read. Thank you for so eloquently describing the crisis we face that only gets worse when we stop trying to fight it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kerry, you are so right about it getting worse when we go silent. Thank you for stopping by.

      Delete
  4. Wild Child, Thanks for telling this story, speaking up for education, and for your inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Print path, thank you for stopping by and for your encouragement!

      Delete
  5. I can totally relate to this post! It is hard to be a teacher nowadays!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is... it really is. Thank you for stopping by.

      Delete
  6. Yes, it cam be very frustrating when people "talk" but not at the right time and to the right people! Good for you for having the courage and honesty to speak up for what you believe is right!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wonderful and thought provoking post!

    ReplyDelete
  8. As always...Love your posts...this really hits home with me even though I am not teaching and retired. You are right on the money with what you are saying...teacher do need to speak up and not just go along with the program..Well said Tracy!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you so much for this post. Although I am not from your state, I can relate to many points you have made. I feel your passion for teaching and as a result your frustration with the system. Keep being a leader !!!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Everything you said really hit home. I feel your frustration. Keep on keepin on, your leadership, guidance, and compassion are so badly needed.

    ReplyDelete