It’s been interesting watching the various ways schools and districts kick off the new year. Some begin in a very low key fashion with staff meetings and prep time. Others start with professional development for large or small groups and some bring together the entire district in a pep rally atmosphere. I’m not sure there’s a right way or a wrong way but in most cases, leadership tries to convey a common, if not inspiration message to set the tone for the upcoming school year.
So I got to thinking, what message would I like to hear from leadership?
So I thought I’d write it out.
Good morning everyone,
I don’t want to keep you long because I know you have a great many things to do in preparation for the upcoming school year but I did want to be sure to share what’s on my mind.
I hope you had a relaxing, restful summer because you deserve it. The more time I spend in education, the more I realize how difficult the job has become. Teaching and caring for children with such diverse needs is taxing. The opportunity to refuel is a key component to doing great work in schools.
Teaching is one of those rare professions where you get a clean slate every year. That always brings hope and possibility. You all expect great things from your students and we, in turn, expect great things from you otherwise we wouldn’t have hired you. Our job at the leadership level is to enable you to empower students. We want you to have the tools and resources you need to do great things. While we may not be able to provide everything you’d like, we feel responsible for doing all we can to support you. We trust that you’ll take ownership of your own learning in the same way you want your students to own theirs. As lead learners, we need you to model that with your students and just as you want them to ask for help, we want you to do the same.
Public education can be a complicated thing. States/Provinces set certain criteria as well as local boards/districts/divisions. Then schools add their expectations and finally the classroom teacher gets a say as well. As much as we’d like all these to align perfectly, we recognize that sometimes they don’t. At the end of the day what is most important is what happens in the classroom and with students. Your voice and experience and your students’ voices and experiences are indeed most important and we want to honor that. Your learning goals and your students learning goals have as much value as any standard or outcome laid out by the powers that be. We want you and your students to pursue those goals. Those goals should be shared with colleagues and classmates who can support and encourage other. For too long your passions and your students passions have been often ignored and learning has been something that was done to students and done to you. That has to stop. Learning is personal and schools should help everyone discover their passions and build on their strengths. We need to stop spending so much time listening to the “experts” and instead recognize and listen to the experts that spend time in classrooms every single day. You indeed are those experts.
I don’t need to remind you how important your job is. Many of these kinds of speeches condescend to teachers telling them things they already know. You’re bright, caring, capable folks. I’m sorry if we’ve not given you the trust and respect to do your job. This is what we as leaders need to do better. It’s the goal I’ve set for myself and you can hold me accountable.
We know not every day will be awesome. We work with kids. They are much like us only at the beginning of their learning journey. It’s our wisdom and care that they need. If you don’t leave school the majority of the days with a smile on your face because you know you did good work, be sure you tell someone. Talk to your principal or talk to any of those supporting you, including me. If you’re not happy, it’s not likely your students will be either and that’s no way to spend 6 hours a day. My dream this year is that you and your students think of school as place where communities of learners gather do interesting work that matters. I’m excited to hear your stories so please share them. In turn, I’m going to share your stories with anyone and everyone who will listen.
So go help kids to learn, smile and belong. Ask hard and interesting questions. Try new things. Share what you’re learning. Ask for help. We’ll work at providing the infrastructure and human capacity to make that happen. Defend your students and empower them as we’ll do the same for you. It’s time for some new stories of great learning. It begins now. Go be awesome.
*This talk was inspired by a talk given Elisa Carlson.
Update: With permission, Willis ISD from Texas turned my speech into a video (beginning at 2:09) for the opening day.