Several teachers across the table from me had a hard time focusing on the workshop. One woman whispered to another, "And how are we supposed to use this stuff?" During our time to talk as a group, those teachers frequently returned to the same topic: initiative overload in their district: "We have to deal with Common Core."
"Yeah, and don't forget the new teacher performance system."
"I'm supposed to be integrating technology into my curriculum."
"When are we going to know about the new assessments?"
As valid as their complaints may be, I kept wondering how they could refocus so that their complaints were acknowledged and then addressed. Teachers are not supposed to be professional victims. Instead, as professionals they need to be able to actively construct solutions to the multiple problems they face. So if initiative overload is a problem, what are some ways this could be addressed?
My hunch is that the collaborative strategies that are used in critical friendship could work here. Sometimes all those initiatives seem disjointed but often at the heart of them there is a value that is shared by the initiative initiators and those who are supposed to implement them: wanting to do best for the children in our schools. This hit home quite awhile ago when I worked at the state department of education. The commissioner at the time was not particularly well-liked and was particularly disrespected by teachers. Teachers questioned his policies and his motives and resented his harsh stance towards them. One day when I was stuck in the elevator with him, he turned to me and started talking with great passion about students he knew who deserved a chance to make it in the world. His passion was sincere. It was the way that he translated that passion into action that troubled many of the teachers I knew who saw him as evil incarnate. After this brief exchange in the elevator, I knew that he and I both shared a similar emotional, spiritual, and intellectual commitment to all students, but the way we displayed that commitment took very different paths.
What if educators began with the premise that policy makers and others had their hearts in the right place even if we disagreed in the methods they proposed? Would taking that stance result in our willingness to figure things out?
For instance, could we look at those initiatives through the lens of critical friendship and begin the process of synthesis?
If we used the consultancy or Isaquuah to move into the stance of problem-solver, not victim, could we use other protocols to find commonalities of initiatives? Could we find the red thread that weaves together what initially appears to be distinct? Could we use that red thread to create a tapestry that was united and coherent? That's our challenge. My hunch is that through the collaborative work of critical friendship that we could move from victim to actor.
And bottom line? What's good for kids? Let's trust that others share that commitment.