When I leave home this time of the year to go to work, someone always asks me what in the world I do to support schools in the heat of the summer? Teachers are off enjoying their long summer breaks, right? Who would I possibly work with in the middle of July? The last thing that teachers want to do in the summer is go to school? Isn’t it? So, what do I go off and do in July in the name of school improvement? How do I find anyone to work with?
Well, if the truth be told, for most educators, the learning never stops. They might take a break for a while, but they are soon reading, preparing, attending conferences or studying together. Now, I know, this is not the impression that many of my non-teacher friends have about “summer” and “teachers”. But, think about it, if you have had an opportunity to share a meal or a coffee with an educator over the summer, I bet it doesn’t take long for the conversation to be about school. We just can’t seem to help ourselves… we shut if off for a while to celebrate and enjoy the end of a school year but soon our minds are moving on to the next year. And, getting ready can take on a whole life of its own for the educators who want to work together in the summer months. Let me introduce you to some who I have recently met.
Over the past two weeks, I have worked in four different schools (in two states) with teachers invested in learning together. In the four schools, there are different neighborhoods, unique student needs and different expectations by the leaders (district and school). The bottom line though, is, the teachers come together to learn because they believe in their students and they are willing to accept leadership roles in their schools. In all four schools, these teachers want to create a shared leadership model that demonstrates an ongoing commitment to “we’ve got this” or “they are our students” not “mine” and “yours”.
These hard-working educators come to the table with a variety of skills, experiences and understanding of the work to be done. Sometimes, they express concerns about not knowing “how” to lead and we work through clarifying expectations, building understanding of common purpose and most importantly, creating confidence in their ability to support the work necessary to make a difference in the lives of their students. You see, in all of these schools, they undeniably understand that collaborating and sharing in the work together will create a far greater chance for students to learn. And, most importantly, they believe in their students. Honestly, how I see it is these educators understand that by believing in their students, they are saving lives. What can get better than this as a purpose to our work?
When I think about the difficult, bumpy road that school improvement is, I always go back to three necessary ingredients one- you must have educators and leaders who will collaborate, create common purpose and share ownership (no-one can do this work in isolation), two- you have to do the right work (in other words, you have to know what is going to get you results and stay intentional in your work to get there) and lastly- you have to believe in your students. Without the belief, it really doesn’t happen.
This last one is a hard one. In so many schools, the disconnect between wanting students to succeed and KNOWING that they can succeed is the elephant in the room. How do you develop unconditional belief in others? What does it take to have a mindset that is genuinely positive that each and every student will succeed? And, if we are to share ownership and leadership of student learning, how do we influence others to believe? Consider these three questions as you get ready for this new school year. Reflection and discussion of where we honestly are with our thinking and beliefs is a very important exercise for educators to do together and there is no time better than the first of the year to create your collective commitments to each other. Will you commit to shared leadership and ownership? And, will you truly agree to model, in all of your actions and words, a 100% commitment to a belief in each student in your school? They sure know when we do or we don’t and nothing builds confidence faster than knowing someone else has it for us! Let’s face it, as humans, we have energy and enthusiasm for what we are doing when we know others believe in us.
I know that the educators who I worked with during the past two weeks are believers and I know they want to continue to be when they actually start working with the students. That is when the rubber will hit the road, in other words, staying true to their beliefs despite the challenges that come before them in the shape of a student, will be the test. Personal and professional buckets are filled during the summer and once the doors of the school are open again, these buckets seem to deplete quite quickly. Someone who means the world to me reminded me, this week, that I am doing this work to save lives. With all of my heart, I have to believe in my principals and teachers. And they in turn have to believe in the students. This is what we do and so as you think about the 2018-2019 school year, I ask you to believe…no matter what…don’t stop believing. Have a great week. See you next Saturday.