The Olympics have always held a special place in my heart. Having had the opportunity to be a performer for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games ceremonies only increased my admiration for world-class athletes. I’m inspired by their work ethic, perseverance, determination, and drive to reach their goals and life-long dreams.
Educators, like Olympic athletes, are champions too. But, I can’t help but think that some have lost their focus, their drive, their work ethic, and determination to make a difference in the lives of kids. Too many educators are comfortable with the status quo and have the mindset that “pretty good” is “good enough.” It doesn’t make them a bad person or even a bad teacher or administrator. However, I see many educators settling for average instead of continually striving to become better. Teachers and administrators don’t lack heart, but they sometimes lack the heart of a champion and need a nudge, push, or a kick in the pants.
A Nudge: Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time said, “If you want to be the best, you have to be willing to do the things that other people aren’t willing to do.” We, as educators need to be willing to step intentionally out of our comfort zones to grow. We must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Above average people, educational champions, take risks. Will there be mistakes? Of course! But, we ask our students to do the same every day. As educators, we need to model lifelong learning. Many of us know when we are getting into a rut, settling for mediocrity or making excuses for not trying something new. We know we are not growing professionally because we lack disequilibrium or the feeling of being unsure. We use “lack of time” to justify our being comfortable with the status quo and our lack of desire to change. The question is, “If you know better, why not do better?” You have to feed the fire! Read a book, attend a conference, listen to a podcast, or participate in a Twitter chat. Don’t wait! Do it now! You won’t experience growth without action. Get an accountability partner or better yet, build a PLN (personal/professional learning network)! As a professional, you have the responsibility to stay current with best practices.
A Push: I think of a “Push” in two ways. The first is surrounding yourself with people that will push your thinking to a different level. Do you have a circle of trusted colleagues that question your thinking and push back with different perspectives? Do you engage in conversations that are more than polite affirmations? Have you found your tribe that will not only build you up but challenge your thinking? When you do, and when you have these types of regular daily interactions, you will experience astronomical growth personally and professionally.
The second type of Push is for those people who eventually move forward but come along kicking, screaming, and usually complaining. First of all, to you I want to say how much you matter as a person and human being. You obviously care/or cared about kids, or you wouldn’t be in education. At some point in your career, have you been hurt, felt a lack of support, or experienced a betrayal of trust? Does it seem like there are more expectations with less time and support to implement all of the changes that come? No one wants to feel incompetent. Fighting change can be a cover and cry for help. I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed. As a 30-year veteran teacher, I’ve seen many initiatives come and go. I know the challenges of change, and it seems that more change has happened in the last decade than in the previous twenty. Admittedly, I sometimes want to close my classroom door and leave a sign on the outside that says, “Leave me alone!” But I know better! We know better! An attitude like that is not what’s best for kids! When teachers collaboratively work together, our practice improves. We’re aware that “good” teaching is not enough. We need to consistently and intentionally try to be “great” teachers/leaders. We know these things. Now, because I know that you know, there is no excuse for being stagnant. If you sincerely love kids and want to provide them with the best education, then you have to adapt to change with a positive attitude. If you’re not willing to do that, I’ll be bold enough to say, “Get off the bus.” If great teaching is not in your heart, if you lack energy and don’t love coming to “work”, don’t drag other people down with negativity and an unwillingness to do what’s best for kids. Teaching is no longer the profession that you should be in, and you need to think about other options. I know it sounds harsh, but someone has to tell you the truth. With over a million kids dropping out of school each year, there is no time to waste! Our very democracy depends on well-educated people. If your flame has been snuffed out, you can’t light the fire in others.
A Kick In The Pants! I can only guess about the enormous amount of stress and pressure to be a school leader. But many administrators need a Kick in the Pants! Now, I’m not talking about the many principals and central office personnel that I look up to as leaders in education. These tirelessly working educators are true champions leading change because they love kids and care about their education. No, I’m talking to the principals and other administrators who hide in their offices, who never visit a classroom other than for formal evaluations, or who aren’t even present at their school because they’re attending “a meeting”. I’m talking to principals who don’t read and keep up with current research and practices, who fail to try anything new, who micromanage with a hammer, who have an inability to inspire others or who fail miserably at building relationships of any kind. Even worse, in my book, is the mindset of a principal doing “just enough” to stay under the radar, doing “just enough” to comply with district/state expectations, or doing “just enough” to not be fired but shows no actual leadership ability. You need a kick in the pants! To you I want to say, get your act together! Be the leader that justifies your paycheck!
Michael Jordan said, “I didn’t come here to be average.” Educators can’t afford to be average. We have to be great! If a nudge, push, or a kick in the pants doesn’t get you moving, doesn’t motivate you to do more for kids; step down. We need champions!