Sharing a vision: can a teacher change a school?

I have been feeling a little despondent lately. I know you’re all used to this (each blog post appears to be a confession of misery) but I aim to use this post to ask for motivation from my PLN.

Soon my school will be getting a new principal. Our current principal is a delightful man: an English teacher, an avid guitar player, a lover of rock music, a man passionate about travel and about the human spirit … a great guy. But he is retiring to enjoy the rest of his life free of the immense responsibilities that come with being a high school principal.

I just tried to write a series of metaphors for a principal: shepherd, pilot, guide. They didn’t work. They are naff because I am too far of the left that I don’t see education as a hierarchy … I can’t see one person at the top with control, I just can’t. Having said that, I’m feeling that the role of a principal is to inspire. To scout for the good ideas, to identify the strengths of the team and hold them up as examples, encourage collaboration through mentoring, to support those who feel overwhelmed. The inspiring thing really gets me.

So I have a vision about education. It has evolved over the last three years and at its core it resists the current model we have. I really want to share it with our new principal. But why should I think that my vision for education is right? Why should I think (arrogantly) that my vision is the one to be implemented in my school? I can’t answer these questions. Perhaps I am an egoist. And I wonder … is this a necessary quality of a leader? Is it egoism and arrogance that drives a vision and makes it become a reality? Surely Hitler had a vision, right? How do we judge that one’s vision is ‘right’? Is there a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to ideas and ideals? Thinking about Hitler again, I guess there is a distinction that needs to be drawn.

I’m tired of being the lone nut. I’m tired of thinking that no one will be interested in my ideas about education in the 21st century. OK – let’s be honest, they’re not even my ideas. I’m an idea scavenger, voraciously devouring the perspectives of others on education now. Ultimately the vision of education which I claim to be mine, is not mine.

People have said to me (publicly, privately) that I am inspiring. Just writing that sentence makes me want to gag cos I sound like a complete wanker. But what does this mean? To inspire? My school colleagues often thank me for helping them with issues relating to technology. They say they wish they knew what I know. But then I’m too afraid to share my blog with them. I can’t understand why. I really can’t. I used to get excited about the ideas I have for teaching and I really wanted to share them. I was happy to present at staff meetings on Web 2.0 tools. But when it comes to my current ideas about student-centred inquiry-based learning and matching the learning space to the physical and online space … well, I think they’ll roll their eyes and say I’m mad. They’ll tell me an idealist. That there is too much to do. Maybe they’ll just disagree. That’s my fear. I’m afraid to be challenged. It’s safer here with you, people who read my blog, because you are supportive. You agree with me.

When our new principal arrives, should I talk to him/her about how I approach teaching and learning? Do I confess that I have dreams of revolutionising our beautiful community school to ensure our students are being challenged to think for themselves, to see that they have more to contribute to the world than just their labour, that they can challenge injustices and become life-long learners? Do I admit that I think education as we know it is slowly becoming irrelevant and will one day (who knows when) will be obsolete?

Nah … I’ll probably just hide in my classroom doing my own thing, tweet and blog about my grievances and finally give up teaching altogether. That’s probably what will happen.

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16 thoughts on “Sharing a vision: can a teacher change a school?

  1. I seriously hope that the last couple of sentences only become truth when all of your eduactional gifts have finally been bestowed on those lucky enough to find themselves in your classroom.
    It doesn’t really matter whatt your new principal thinks of your idealism,your enthusiasm,your inspiration, or indeed you.
    When was the last time your current principal was in your space, engaged in your lesson, taken in by your enthusiasm, wowed by your knowledge, your passion?
    Ask the questions of your students. Find your inspiration in them,as they do in you.
    Leave the senior executive to ‘manage’ the school…you have far more important matters to attend to.

    • Hey Cathy … thanks for your flattering words :0) It is hard to stay positive sometimes in this system, and it’s easy to fall into thinking that nothing will ever change and I should just deal with it or move on. I don’t want to be that person though. I want to keep agitating for change – you know? I care about education and young people to just give up. But maybe they’ll force me out … haha. Or maybe I’ll ‘grow up’!
      You know, honest truth Cathy … I find my kids can get so bogged down in the system too that they lack passion at school and my passion scares them. If that makes sense? I’m afraid they’ll rebel against my rebellion because they feel too pressured to conform.
      Thanks for reading … I screamed to pat when I saw that you commented. I didn’t know that you read my blog. It’s kinda my secret. Shhhh … don’t tell Pat the link, OK?

  2. ‘People have said to me (publicly, privately) that I am inspiring. Just writing that sentence makes me want to gag cos I sound like a complete wanker. But what does this mean?’

    I will start with this sentence i think!

    To inspire another teacher is perhaps the greatest honour that can be bestowed. Translated it means that you listen; to your students, to other educators, to professional learning networks, to the academics and most importantly to yourself. I have always looked towards inspiring teachers to avoid becoming despondent when faced by antiquated values and beliefs regarding education. In fact it is PLNs that help me cope with the demands of being a HT in a low-SES (with the associated social ‘baggage’) and a very entrenched working environment. I look towards a Year 1 teacher like Sarah Howard, i visit the class blog and I learn – doing this helps me on a number of levels:

    1. It demonstrates that I have a moral obligation to innovate in the name of student engagement – I will not allow students to come from such an enriched learning environment to my classroom and have their passion for learning diminished.

    2. You are never alone in your battle to re-invigorate. Thousands of teachers engage in the same battle everyday and it is from this process that you can dismiss the self-doubt involved in being the innovator.

    3. No one is really a scavenger – rather the new paradigm is rapidly becoming based upon the notion of sharing. It is through this process again that makes me realise that I am not alone.

    You want to know what a wanker is…

    1. They don’t run video conferences or BWT sessions to share their knowledge and passion – usually they are selfish pricks!

    2. They don’t ask hard questions of themselves, challenge their reasoning or search for another way – because they know all of the answers it seems!

    3. They don’t listen to the voice of students – this notion disgusts them, after all why would a student know about themselves?

    4. They never inspire their colleagues as they ‘get off’ when risk takers fail!

    Sorry this is long winded, but i get tired of early career teachers leaving the system due to the actions, motivations and selfishness of the REAL wankers!

    Wanker, no you are not, you are a leader and that should become your focus!

    • Thanks Neil … you’re such a straight-talker. I think that’s really important. I need that. You’re right about wankers, haha – I’ve known a few of those in my years!

      OK … I know I gotta stay but it can be really, really hard.

      I dunno about the leader thing … I just can’t seem to get paper-work right, I don’t like wearing suits and I always laugh at inappropriate things. I do like it when someone says I have inspired them to try something new though πŸ™‚

  3. I followed your link from the Language Arts group on Edmodo, and I just had to respond to your thoughts. I too have the same feelings about our education system, constantly struggling with keeping a positive outlook for the future but being unable to ignore the glaring deficiencies in our students’ educations. Something I have come to realize lately is that I am not alone.

    For one, there are people like you who think the same way we do. Also, there are many great leaders in our world who hold onto these same principals. Countless books have been written about the idea of “systems” thinking, a phenomenon that got it’s start with Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline.” His ideas all revolve around creating an engaging, motivational, learning organization so that all employees’ needs are met and the work place produces the best “product”. Although he wrote this one for businesses, he has recently published “Schools that Learn,” a companion that is specifically for education, which I plan to read soon.

    I say all that to say, three things:

    1. You are not alone. And more than that, there are TONS of people out there who are in your shoes. Keep getting in touch with thinkers like you. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

    2. Don’t give up. Ever. The only way education will continue to grow is if people like you stand up for what is right.

    3. Talk to your new principal. Set up a “welcome” meeting to greet him/her, while making sure to slip some of your ideas in there.

    Best wishes and Happy Summer!

    • Hi Christina πŸ™‚

      Welcome to my blog and thanks for taking the time to post a comment – appreciate it πŸ™‚

      I think you’re right about there being many teachers thinking like me and maybe that’s what frustrates me most – that my PLN is full of creative, innovative 21st century teachers who value learning above all else. I kinda wanna build my own school and invite you all in … we could do some wonderful stuff!

      Thanks for the reading suggestions, I’ll be starting some further study next semester, so it’ll be good to add them to the pile!!

      I will be heading to ISTE in a week – so I’ll get to enjoy your US sunshine whilst it’s a little colder down here in Australia.

  4. Or maybe you will gravitate towards others who are on the same wave length. Then your ideas will resonate in concert with these others. This then creates a form of discursive gravity that aligns with others within the online and off-line educational community. This becomes a rich ecology of ideas resident within what I call the eCloud. And hopefully emerging from this will be a new educational paradigm which we cannot fully form yet as it is so incommensurate with existing hegemonic educational structures, process and discourses. So when opportunity knocks sounds like you will be waiting, standing their and saying “Gee how come it took you so long” Enjoy the school holidays πŸ™‚

    • I’m going to build that place … I am. I just gotta work out how. Screw the system – bring it on. Education belongs to no one and everyone. Love it!!

  5. How can you quit something you are so passionate about?! Never give up your idealism, your dreams and your rebellion, ever.

    In the scheme of things, think about how much has changed due to your enthusiasm in your own school and across others vis twitter, your blog etc. Oh and of course, soon to have the Mid North Coast, too. πŸ™‚

    I would definitely be meeting with your new principal and sharing your vision. I would also be inviting him or her into your classroom to see first hand what you are accomplishing. They might not agree (or even understand) all you are doing but they will see you for what you are – a passionate educator ensuring your students are prepared for life in the 21st Century.

    As I teach my students – one voice does make a difference because soon one becomes two, becomes four etc. The ripples in the pond spread outwards and why not be the pebble that starts it all?

    Dream, fly high and welcome newcomers to the cause – because they are coming on board.

    • Thanks Paula πŸ™‚ The things is I feel I ‘give’ more to ppl outside of my school … and that’s not the fault of my school, I blame my own anxiety – haha. I had a wonderful chat with our HT of T&L about the technologu committee we have that I’m not a member of. I thought it was all about buying equipment and stuff … but we’re all going to meet next term to set out a proper plan for DER (and when I say that i mean the REAL revolution – changing education to meet the needs of now!).
      I’m so excited about presenting to the Mid North Coast English teachers – I hope they like me!

  6. Bianca,

    I remember that, when I began teaching 20 years ago, I was dismayed by what I saw as burnout in the faces (and the classrooms) of the senior teachers in my building. Now, 20 years later, I find myself agreeing with them, and I really don’t like it. I have to constantly remind myself that the young people in front of me are the reason I came here. Our state’s commissioner of education, mayors, are out of control. Good teachers are being fired en masse, regardless of evaluations under the guise of “getting rid of bad teachers,” but of course, it’s about the Wal-Mart-ization of teaching in America. I’m only 45, and I wonder if I’ll make it to retirement, or, despite my “distinguished” evaluation status, I’ll be canned in favor of a younger, less-expensive teacher. Living in a country where the ignorant masses are screaming for my head while I’m being asked to do more than ever for less pay, and being told in every corner of the mass media that I’m failing, well, there are plenty of days that I don’t want to get out of bed.

    But then I think about Nick, who is a bit rough around the edges, but I promised I’d be there to help him with his essay after school. Or Annie, who came out to me, and told me she fears being outed by her peers, and just needs to talk. Or Tara, who needs to be talked down off the ledge because she’s associated grades with her self worth. And then there’s that class that is preparing for the final exam essay, and I told them we’d do some coaching today. As I type this, their essays are under my forearms, calling out to me to evaluate them, give them feedback.

    There is no magic bullet to avoid burnout, but I have a couple of tiny aphorisms taped to my computer monitor. One is from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale-” “Noli te des bastardes carborundorum. (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.) and, “In clamo te domine.” (“Out of the depths I cry to you, o Lord.”) And that’s it. Whenever I get down, I look at that. Or I open my top drawer of my desk and read some “thank-yous” and hold fast to what I told them in my interview 20 years ago- “Teaching isn’t an occupation. For me, it’s my vocation; my calling.”

    Stay strong. It isn’t easy, I know.

  7. Well, by posting your dilemma here and posing the questions you’d like to ask your incoming principal, you have charged your PLN with keeping you honest and holding you to asking those questions! As for not seeing yourself as a leader, maybe just like schools need to recast and re-imagined, the role of school leader has to be shaken up and remolded. Make your own leadership style – it doesn’t have to be the stereotypical version.

  8. Bianca,
    I am a new reader of your blog, but judging by this article you have an immense amount to offer the kids you teach and the staff around you. Don’t let your self doubts drown out that inner voice that is telling you there is a better way. My oldest son started school this year and I want him to grow up with teachers endowed with vision, passion, enthusiasm and the desire to make a difference. We appreciate those traits in his kindergarten teacher, and so I am sure the parents of your students appreciate it too – even if you don’t get to hear it often enough.
    Just a couple of other things. A wise person once told me “You can lead from anywhere in an organisation.” You don’t have to be the principal to inspire and lead other teachers as you are already experiencing. And the old Covey principle of focusing on the “Circle of Influence” rather than the Circle of Concern (where you have little control) will help you spread your ideas and influence. The new principal will see that (it may take a little time) – and it will likely be more effective than announcing on the first day that you have grand visions. Your actions will speak louder than words, and then the opportunity to discuss it will likely come. Just my two cents – keep it up!

  9. I’m tired of being the lone nut. I’m tired of thinking that no one will be interested in my ideas about education in the 21st century……

    Hi Bianca… Just re-visiting your blog and since the 1:1 unconference and YAMMER/Twitter PLN I am involved with now, I sooooo feel like you!!! I’m conscious of being a WANKER – but more than that .. this week when I try to tell people of my ideas after a few sentences it is as if they can’t even follow or understand what I’m taliking about!!! OMG – I feel so weird as if I am on another planet!!! BUT .. I can’t give up… I want to do inspiring and creative things!!!.. I NEED the kids to have a voice and be driving their own learning!!! We have to keep going… THANX for your inspiration AND we want to hear aout EVERYTHING when you return from your adventure!!!.. Take care ….

  10. Always the visionary’s dilemma. Being at the head of the wave means that you’re the first to crash when it hits the shore. My own experience is that you have to be the change you want to see….often, leading by example is better than talking. Let your new principal see your ‘principles’ and if she/he is awake and onboard he/she will initiate discussion. Gather like minds, (there is strength in numbers) if only to keep you afloat. Spread your gospel, you have the best media available to do that work. Go over the wall, don’t keep it local, make your vision for education an international issue, who knows what might happen.
    Just walk it the same way you walk to anywhere, one step at a time and with absolute certainty of arriving.

  11. ‘Focus your mindset on what you can control, don’t waste time on what you can’t control. Your influence will grow.’ Covey #iste11 a present from ITSE to never forget!

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