I just read the post by George Couros, Nobody Wants to Be “Fixed”, and it reminds me of what is going on in schools in Norway today. That is, what is going on according to these latest newspaper articles. Dagsavisen.
Teachers in Norway are angry because they feel that what they do in the classroom is decided by factors outside their control. They are angry about the testing regime, and how they need to justify every method they use in their classroom. And they are tired of being used by every politician trying to win votes by pointing out how bad school is. It is like George says;
First of all, the people that are in most need of hearing this message, don’t (politicians), and the people who do hear it most often (educators) are the ones making miracles happen in classrooms daily.
Reading the article in the Norwegian newspaper we get to know that teachers are complaining about too much of their time being planned and used by others, in this case, the school leaders. And as a school leader, I can certainly relate to this topic. We have 5 days of planning each year, and there is a discrepancy in how the teachers want to spend these days, and what the school leaders want. The solution has to be to find a good balance. Dagsavisen.
Even so, teachers in Norway have a lot of autonomy regarding what takes place in the classroom. Much more so than in other countries I have visited. And even if teachers feel that they are solely measured by the tests the students take, they can still pretty much control what goes on in the classroom. But to be able to do so, they need wise and understanding school leaders to back them up. Leaders who take time to show the teachers that what they do in the classroom really matters and to support and guide them in their day to day work. In order to do so, school leaders and school owners (municipalities) need to back off sometimes, without giving up the reign altogether.
We need solid, understanding leadership where decisions are taken with the teachers and where initiatives are related to what works in the classroom. Teachers need to be challenged in critical processes where their practice in the classrooms is investigated and assessed. It is the principal’s job to ensure that what goes on in the classroom will benefit all our students.
In the article, teachers complain about the time spent on assessment for learning, (formative assessment), student/teacher interviews, student involvement in discussing the curricula and the time spent on involving the students in their own learning. They think it is too strenuous for the students when they have to do this in every class, in every subject and the teachers are tempted to reminisce the good old days, in the easy 70-80’s. Dagsavisen
I’m thinking about how far away this is from what George is describing in his post. If we keep on focusing on problems in our schools, we miss seeing the great stuff that is happening there. I also would like to hear the students’ voice, particularly high school students. Too many debates exclude the most important group altogether.
We need to take a step back I think and look at the real issues here. By looking for, and starting with, a culture that builds on strengths and what we do right, you are more likely to have a group of people that feel valued.
A lot of time we have a couple of negative teachers on our staff and we tailor everything to them so they won’t whine, ignore them and move on! George Couros.
I encourage you to see this video where George talks about the impact we have on our colleagues, our students, and their parents. “When you meet someone negative, like in the classroom or among your staff, you need to redirect. You have to say, every single one of you can have a significant impact on me. How do we know that? If we meet on the street, would you be the person I would cross the street to talk to? I certainly hope I would be that person to you.”
I think George has a lot of good advice to school leaders, and I wonder if we spent more time like this, we might not have that many disgruntled teachers. It certainly is worth contemplating. I have added the advice from George below.
I’m often asked if I was to go back into a school as a principal, what would I change first. My answer is “nothing.” The first thing I would do now is to create a spreadsheet with every single staff member’s name. To the right of that column I would write the word “Strength.” Until I can identify the strength in every person in that building, nothing changes. Not only do I have to identify it, but the people I am serving would have to know that I know it. Then we can move forward and try some new ideas striving toward better opportunities for our students. If I change things without knowing and showing the value of the people I serve, they feel like they are trying to be “fixed” and nobody wants to feel that way. If people know they are valued, then it feels like we are trying to help them get better and grow. People will move a lot further with the second option.
This culture we create for our staff is also essential because it trickles down to our students.3 I have seen too often “response to intervention” meetings where adults focus on what is wrong with the student instead of what is right. How excited would you be to come to an environment every single day where that was the case? Unfortunately, this is a learned strategy that is passed on through practice in how many educators are treated within the school environments, individually and collectively.
If we want educators and students to be excited to come to school each day, we have to create an environment where they feel valued. Feeling valued doesn’t mean we don’t have flaws and weaknesses; it is just that we do not start from that point.