Teaching Opinion

When There Isn’t a Shared Vision, Meet Colleagues Where They Are

By Starr Sackstein — September 22, 2016 3 min read
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It’s safe to say that my views can probably be classified as progressive and maybe at times even subversive, in the sense that I’m not afraid to shake things up if it’s in the best interest of students.

It has long since been my contention that many aspects of systemic challenges hinder student progress and teacher flexibility to meet those student needs effectively.

A lot has changed since I started teaching (15 years now) and in many regards, my views on how to educate have shifted drastically and there are many who have not moved that much at all.

Being in a position to help colleagues is a tremendous gift, and what I recognize is that sometimes my ideas can be too much all at once.

I have a new colleague who keeps reminding me that baby steps are needed in order to make change; I wish I were better at being okay with baby steps.

So as I’ve been listening to folks and students, I realize there is a huge cultural difference in my new school to my old school. It isn’t fair of me to impose my beliefs or other systems on a place that has been functioning differently for a long time.

That isn’t to say that I won’t engage in conversation, where we can foster an open dialogue about philosophy and pedagogical practice and see if we can’t do what is best for kids that aligns with the vision of the school.

Taking a step back has been essential. Having been a veteran in my old school, respected by staff and students, I was able to voice my opinions freely and know that even if my colleagues and I weren’t on the same page, there was a level of understanding between us that doesn’t exist here yet...

But I’m trying very hard to change that.

Each day, I open myself up more to the new people I call my colleagues. Inviting them into both my personal life and broader philosophical views on assessment and student learning. Not quite ready to start diving into lunch and learns or professional learning opportunities, I have been able to gather some information and start to look at the data.

During my meet and greet last week, I asked my colleagues in to reintroduce the teacher center space, allowing them to talk to each other and me and to take a brief needs assessment survey. This survey has enabled me to understand how the space is being used now and offered insight as to how it was used before. Teachers were asked about specific areas of interest that I consider my strengths and I queried them about areas they consider their strengths.

This space is not just mine, it is ours and I have every intention of capitalizing on the tremendous knowledge my colleagues have in a variety of areas.

Other ideas I have are:

  • Offering open access time once or twice a month for an two hours where colleagues can collaborate across content and develop ideas together that we can celebrate throughout the process. This idea was discussed during the meet and greet and since many students have a hard time articulating connections between their classes, we felt it would be a great way to start transferring learning.
  • Folks seemed to want to know more about the Google Educational Suite (GAFE) which the school doesn’t use on a large scale yet. So this was an easy place for me to want to start as I have so much experience using it and I can really break it down, since I’ve been using it with kids for so long.
  • Offer other lunch and learn workshops people are interested in like: Using social media for becoming a connected educator, creating a student-centered classroom and selecting good apps to use in the classroom on a cell phone.
  • Continue getting to know my colleagues so that I can understand the nuances of their individual situations and then be able to really help them grow based on the collegial relationships I’m developing with them.

In addition to helping in this capacity, I need to make sure my teaching space is ready to be observed. I’d love for teachers to see me in action so that I’m not just talking the talk, but rather living what I preach and offering a sound alternative to what they may be doing already.

Great teaching can look a lot of different ways. Rather than try to make us all look the same, we need to embrace what makes our spaces special and just enhance the efforts for the benefits of the kids. This must be our goal.

What can you do to meet colleagues where they are and help develop a culture that supports student needs better? Please share

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