So often, you think you know best, and it’s usually for good reason. You want to make a difference. You want to fix things that are broken, and you want to get this done yesterday, because it matters. Someone is suffering, and you know that you can stop the pain. You have the best of intentions, and there’s little time to deliberate. Those who do aren’t taking action.
You are a play maker.
They’re either doing it wrong or making everything unnecessarily difficult.
This is how complex issues are often boiled down to right or wrong. Win or lose. Either-or. These perspectives are dangerous enough when only two players are involved, but the unintended consequences of taking hard stances and drawing battle lines inside of larger systems are even greater.
You lose a lot by winning.
I’m remembering a teacher who made it her mission to help three struggling learners pass their New York State Regents’ exams so that they would be able to graduate. They had to retake them multiple times over the course of multiple years, giving up extra curricular activities, jobs, and time with friends and family along the way. She advised them to do this, celebrating each sacrifice. In the end, they received their diplomas, and for years, this teacher held them up as an example of what hard work could accomplish.
Not just theirs, but hers as well.
Later, these graduates returned to visit their teacher. The glow of their degrees had dimmed a bit by then, and reality had settled around them. They weren’t in college. They weren’t working. In fact, they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. They had no idea what their true talents and passions were. They passed the tests, but they lost themselves along the way.
Here’s another: I know a department chairperson who was so convinced that Common Core Learning Standards couldn’t be implemented without standardizing curricula and turning learning into punishment that she convinced nearly every member of her department that this was the case. Unfortunately, escaping the Core was inevitable. Given the reality that all teachers were mandated to align to Core, they went about the business of scrapping the learning experiences and lessons they loved, purchasing a low quality but “Common Core aligned” program instead. It never occurred to them that they could seek alignment and perhaps, even greater satisfaction in the curricula they valued and still teach with the Core. If it was engaging for kids and teachers, it couldn’t be aligned. Right?
When I asked why they ditched a quality curricula that they spent years designing, this teacher’s response sickened me.
“We had to,” she said. “This new program is aligned to the Common Core, and there is no way our project based stuff could have been. Choice? Inquiry? Creative writing? Joy? Please. We all know that’s not what the tests are requiring. I hate this curriculum, but it was a necessary evil. Now our kids are suffering for it. Everyone hates teaching it too. Morale is so low.”
“There may have been a better way,” I suggested.
“Too late,” she sighed, dramatically. “I let the teachers vote. They chose the program. The program won.”
You lose a lot by winning.
What if there were another way to let everyone get their way?
What if there were no winners or losers?
This is the work of alignment, which is about so much more than standards.
Even when we have the best of intentions, failing to seek alignment–particularly with those who oppose us–often costs everyone in the end.
The teacher who produced those graduates went on to watch them drop out of life.
The department chair who perpetuated her stance on the Common Core inadvertently inspired her team to adopt outcomes and lessons that killed kids’ joy for learning.
One great way to get your way is to create a very clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve, and then ask others to do the same. Especially those who might oppose you.
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer’s Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.