5 things we need to stop pretending

1. We need to stop pretending leadership is about power and titles

A leader is someone you will follow because you trust them, not because of some power they hold over you or some negative consequence they might impose.  It seems so many schools and districts are really hurt by the mentality of “us vs. them” when it comes to teachers and administration.  While teachers certainly play a role in this dynamic, far too many administrators think the way to run a building is by communicating an individual vision and expectations and then enforcing it through walkthroughs, write ups, and a never ending game of gotcha.  A wise mentor told me that cops sit on the side of the road every day and write tickets, but the majority of us continue to speed.  Why is this?  Ultimately, many don’t believe driving the speed limit is in their best interest and the risk of a ticket doesn’t change that.  Why do we think playing a game of gotcha would work any better in our school?  This grasping for power needs to stop and that way of thinking will never have the power to change a school or any organization.  While it is vitally important for the health of an organization that we have shared values, expectations, and accountability, these aren’t the magic of leadership.  It is ultimately about relationships, influence, and dialogue.  Leadership doesn’t get done in the faculty meeting or by giving a presentation.  It happens one conversation at a time.  There are no shortcuts.  If I or a teacher leader can convince others that an initiative or instructional strategy is a best practice or is in the best interest of our students, we will continue to grow.  If not, we will continue to struggle to progress.

2. We need to stop pretending carrots and sticks are the way to motivate students

Rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin and don’t work for our students.  Show me a classroom where students are connected to their teacher and are presented with an engaging task and the need for any sort of reward or punishment will disappear.  To paraphrase Alfie Kohn in his work Punished by Rewards, “If we ask our students to do something boring, we will probably have to figure out a bribe or consequence to get them to do it.”  If we teach and reteach our expectations and then focus on engaging and connecting with our students, 90% of the need for behavior management disappears.

3. We need to stop pretending that we are cranking a product out of a factory

Standardized curriculum and testing comes from a place of believing that all students are the same and in need of the same things in their education.  While having goals that we expect students to master at each grade level makes sense, expecting them all to cross the finish line at the same moment in time with the same coaching doesn’t make any sense.  What say do students have in their education?  When do they get the opportunity to pursue their interests and passions?

4. We need to stop pretending that raising test scores means we have achieved a better school

Are test scores important?  Absolutely.  If we teach our students to read, write, think critically, and work hard, they will do well given just about any test.  However, this is only one part of being a great school.  How do students feel about your school?  Is it a place they want to be?  A place they’d be excited and proud to show their parents?  How do people treat each other?  How is your attendance rate?  Graduation rate?  Parent satisfaction?  What opportunities to students have to excel outside of basic reading and math?  Are your students excited about learning?  There are a hundred other things I could list that are important to being a great school, but the public, led by politicians, want to give one test and assign a grade to a school.

5. We need to stop pretending that P.R. isn’t a part of our job

I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook for a couple of minutes the other day when I came across this story…

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/mom-lunch-shamed-school-packing-oreos-daughter/story?id=30674158

It is a story about a mom who is mad that she sent oreos with her child’s lunch and the school wouldn’t allow her to eat them because of some kind of healthy eating policy.  I don’t know why I let stories like this tick me off, but I am really tired of seeing things like this on the news with about eight thousand comments under it bashing schools and educators.  Really ABC?  With everything going in education, this is the best story you have write?  And for the 8000 or so commenters… Really?  This is the best thing you have to be outraged about?  While I wouldn’t take a kid’s oreos away, it isn’t high on my list of priorities to fix in education.

While this story and the comments associated with it are completely ridiculous, it underscores an important point.  If we don’t tell our stories in education, someone else is going to do it for us, and it won’t be fair, accurate, or likely flattering.  What tools are we using in our schools to communicate to stakeholders all the good things that are happening?  How are we opening our doors and engaging our parents and our community?