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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Relationships: Are We Too Worried About Our Rate of Return?

By Barry Saide & Jeff Zoul — July 01, 2014 5 min read
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Today’s guest blog is co-written by Barry Saide, a fifth grade teacher in Bernards Township, NJ, and Jeff Zoul, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning in Deerfield, Ill Public Schools.

If you search the phrase “investing in each other” on Google, the search engine will offer a multitude of financial institution catchphrases, which it should, of course. However, it will not display any links to forming relationships with people...which also should happen. An intentional ongoing investment in the human spirit and moral compass, particularly among those with whom we interact on a daily basis in our professional lives as educators, may be the single most important act we can take to sustain a productive educational organization.

If we want to create the next great generation of learners and leaders, we need to invest in the current ones who represent our school district, buildings, and classrooms. In a financial sense, “investing” money holds a slightly different connotation than “saving” or “depositing” money into an account. In the latter examples, we are likely to put money in and take money out with some regularity. We are unlikely to think about these as long term savings plans; we focus on deposits, but also withdrawals.

The same holds true with many of our work relationships. Although we may strive for transformation in all that we do as educators, inevitably, there remain many transactions we must conduct. In such transactions, we are not necessarily spending our time worrying about our “rate of return;" rather, we are focused on getting something done, turning something in, making our plans, grading a paper.

Investments, on the other hand, both in the fiscal sense as well as the relationship sense, are quite different. Investments take many forms: relevant, on-going teacher-directed professional development. Materials. Technology. Even these, though, are the easier ones to invest in, as they are monetary, not emotional, in nature. In order to receive them, we need to prove we need them and that students will benefit from them.

The more difficult--and more rewarding--investments are more emotional in nature. These are the ones that aren’t visible, and are harder because they require a belief system where we put ourselves second. Always. If we’ve bought into “investing in each other,” we realize the bottom line is not about us: it is about what we can do for others. If we can help others learn, grow, and lead, our belief is that those in whom we invest will subsequently pay it forward.

Passionate educators make the conscious decision to invest in this continual exchange among people, by people; they know that it is only through this constant exchange and investment in each other that they will be able to sustain the positive educational climate long after they have left it.

Investing in Education

What is the purpose of investing in others within the educational community? To return to the financial analogy, we make the conscious decision to invest in this way as a long-term commitment that we hope pays off not just today, but over a long period of time. We are not planning on making a withdrawal anytime soon in return for our deposit. Our hope is that these investments will take root and grow, providing returns long after we have left. Educators with an “investment mindset” will take this mindset with them wherever they may go, knowing, in turn, they are leaving those in whom they have invested their time, their interest, their willing ear, their feedback, firmly planted in place to carry on the tradition and, in turn, sustaining a culture of continuous growth.

In the school setting, investing in others can take many forms. Although our first priority is investing in the students we serve, it is also of primary importance for professionals in any school setting to invest in each other. What do these investments look like specifically and what, then, are the returns on such investments? Here are but a few examples of how we invest in each other as educators:

  • You Can Handle the Truth: We invest in each other by being honest with our colleagues about our educational errors. We treat them as learning experiences so others can learn from our mistakes, not from them repeating ours. Everyone’s flubbed a lesson, a presentation, or a meeting with concerned stakeholders. It’s how we reflect, grow, and find the humor from these shared experiences that define us, not the mistakes themselves.
  • Don’t Keep Score: We invest in each other by sharing. If we have material that will benefit our grade level teammates, our teaching staff, our administrative team, or our PLN, it behooves us to share it, regardless of whether we’re part of a culture that shares or hoards. When we share what we have, we model how we want our peers to interact with each other and the students with whom they come in contact. We feed our spirit and soul through this transaction, even if it appears one-sided.
  • Say What?: We invest in each other by actively seeking opportunities to listen and learn. The better we know our colleagues, and the students and families we serve, the better we can support their growth as people and lifelong learners. It’s easy to say our door is always open. It’s harder to prop it open and mean it. When people reach out to us, it’s an honor and privilege to have been chosen to listen. There’s an unspoken trust when someone comes to us and says, “I need to talk...” It’s important that we take time to SEAL: Stop Everything and Listen.

Being truthful, openly sharing everything we do (including both our successes and failures), and taking time to stop everything and listen are just a few ways we invest in each other as professional educators. The work we do is extremely hard--and extremely important. We simply cannot do it alone as well as we can do it when we join forces with others.

Carol Dweck has popularized the idea of cultivating a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset within the students we teach, meaning we must let them know that they can actually become smarter by working harder. We are firm believers in the tenets of the growth mindset movement. We also know that our own ability to grow as professional educators lies at least in part to our willingness to invest in each other; thus, we urge you to not only adopt a growth mindset, but also an “investment mindset.”

Take a look around your school or district; who can you invest in today?

Connect with Barry on Twitter.

Connect with Jeff on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.