Professional Development Opinion

What Can We Do Today to Shift Culture?

By Starr Sackstein — November 28, 2017 3 min read
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Our story begins in the middle. No “once upon a time” nor “a very long time ago” to punctuate a formal starting point, no matter how much we may feel we need one.

Many important plot points have already happened, but filling in the missing pieces is impossible with complete integrity.

So although we start in the middle, the beginning is an exploration of what has come before, so as to construct how the rest will continue.

Being new has its challenges, but it also has its advantages considering the lack of knowledge of both good and bad; it’s one of the few times that ignorance really provides an outlet for mistakes and a willingness of those also involved to forgive, possibly more readily.

There are traces and clues of what came before and the challenge to establish myself in an image of my own making for the benefit of the students, the school community, and the team I am now a part of. Eagerly, I accept that challenge and enter each day with fresh eyes, ready to make some impact.

So far, some days have been better than others. I’m so grateful for the teachers who have been early adopters, open to the vision and perspective I offer and willing to co-construct the full picture with me. There are others who are leary, and rightfully so. I’m not the first to stand where I do, I’m just the new one of them. Time isn’t on my side and I haven’t had much of an opportunity yet to be what I say I am.

But I’m resilient. I want to be who they want to work with and hard work doesn’t frighten me.

Avoiding my office like the plague whenever I can, I’m out and about, in classrooms being who I want them to see. Making my words matter more each day by actively showing instead of telling. Just like writing a good story, life is in how the actions match the words and our words matter, but our actions inspire.

Each day, I sit with at least one of my colleagues, trying to come to some understanding of the collective fears, concerns, and hopes to bring the best learning environment possible to all of our students. Attentively, I listen as they share their ideas and experiences, taking it all in, translating the sub-text, reading between lines and always remaining positive. Punctuating each communication with a thank you and reminding myself that this is a just the middle of a story, at the start of a new chapter.

There is no “magic bullet” or secret plot twist that will magically make success befall us. Instead, there are a million tiny opportunities to make unspoken points visible and keep pushing forward, aligning the goals and expectations for the future and continue to problem solve together.

Although patience isn’t a friend of mine, I will do my best to recommit to knowing her. She will be the best friend I always wanted and I will honor her needs as they were my own.

Things I need to remember that I can do each day that on their own won’t necessarily make the impact I’d always dreamed of, but collectively will shift a mindset:

  • Conversations matter. Every single day with each individual person. The time I commit to knowing the folks who are on my team will promote the culture I hope we move to. So as we seek to move forward, every voice must be heard; especially the dissenters.
  • My actions speak as loudly as my words. I must seek to congruently promote the behaviors I hope to see not only in what I say but also in what I do. If I value reflection and student-centered learning, then I must do the things I expect.
  • Learning takes time and everyone does it at their own pace. Just because I want change to happen, doesn’t mean it will on my timeline. I must honor each learner and the time it takes for him or her to get to where he or she needs to be.
  • Visibility matters. That is the only way I will be able to see the great learning happening is if I’m in classrooms talking to teachers and students when the learning where the magic happens.
  • Keep asking questions and be honest about mistakes being made. If I expect my team to take risks, then I need to do the same. No question is stupid. Every mistake is an opportunity to grow. Let’s reflect together and grow from it.
  • Don’t waste people’s time. Time is precious and no teacher has enough of it. I need to make sure that the time I spend with teachers is always advancing student learning in some way. That’s what it is all about.

No change happens overnight, no matter how much we want it to. Real growth happens with collaborative leadership that embraces the strengths of every member of the team. This is what is best for our school community and that is why I’m committed to seeing it through.

What can you do today to help grow learning in your school? Please share.

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

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