Oh, The Places We Long to Go…..

Hey–there is an interesting conversation taking place over here. I jumped in because the issues raised here are particularly relevant to the work that I….and a whole lot of other people I  know…..do. A theme has been emerging from my own learning over the last few years, and Bass digs into it in ways that I respect. He advocates for leading change by beginning with what is. He speaks to a reality that I understand, and I have a feeling that a few other people in my corner of the world might live in this same world. This doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of what is possible. It doesn’t mean we aren’t champions for change. It simply means that being on the ground inside of schools every day requires a different use of our energies. It requires us to think and plan with others around what is as well as what could be.

Helping teachers and students define a vision for the learning that they would like to accomplish and the work that they would like to do is critical, and this looks different everywhere I go. It should. The culture of every school and every community is different, and it would be incredibly arrogant and ineffective to assume that I have answers. In fact, I’ve discovered that teachers and students actually know quite a bit about what they need and how I can help them. Doing my work well requires me to  listen, ask good questions, and learn where the entry points into our work together might be.

Often, I learn about what isn’t possible right now.

Filters are a reality in every school I work in, and I imagine that things will remain this way for a good long time. I’ve worked in classrooms as recently as a month ago that did not have a single computer in them. In fact, there are still schools in our region who only provide one computer per classroom–for teachers to keep their grade books on.

I also work with teachers who are courageous enough to convey the fact that they aren’t at all comfortable teaching reading and writing. They aren’t certain how to provide quality feedback to the writers that they work with. Some haven’t really written anything themselves since grad school. I know more than a handful of teachers who still struggle to check their email on a daily basis. Terms like RSS, wiki, ning, and blog give them tremors. That’s okay. They are eager to learn from one another, and I’m honored to help them however I can. This often begins by finding out who people really are, what they long to accomplish as learners and teachers, and what they are passionate about. When people are engaged in meaningful learning that is aligned to these purposes, the development of skills like reading and writing and…improved instructional practice…..seem to become natural by-products of that experience.

As a service provider, I’ve found that real change is often slow change. Beginning with an audit of what teachers and students need, what they are interested in and experienced with, and what resources are available and open within the district has been an excellent place to start.This helps us ground our work together in what is possible. The fact is that even with filters and standards and testing and budget cuts and Race to the Top and all of the things people are confused and frustrated about….so much is possible. Advocating for what could be if a few thousand things simply change first isn’t a very good use of my time….although I think it is imperative that others, particularly those who are more powerful than I may be, do this work in a very big way. That’s not my purpose most days though, and I need to remain clear about this. My purpose is to respect and help people  in my little community remember who they are and what they want to accomplish in service to one another. My purpose is to support those teachers and students who are eager to learn and grow right now, using the resources and the learning opportunities that might help them best in the system they are in.

Clarity of purpose remains one greatest needs I’ve identified in my work with administrators, teachers, and students.

What is the purpose of our school? What are our purposes as leaders? As learners? As service providers?

What are we trying to learn about students and about our work as teachers? How do we study this best? Which of the tools that we have can help us do this most effectively?

How will we act, in response to what we learn about our students, our teachers, our administrators, and ourselves?

This is the work that makes me most joyful, and it happens best when I’m able to focus on what is possible. I have such tremendous respect for people and learning in progress, particularly when people are willing to own that reality rather than cover it up for fear of being told they are wrong or judged harshly by those who claim to know more than they wonder. None of what real learners do is perfect….in fact, none of us are perfect…..and in a huge way, I think that this is what makes us good examples.

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