Teach & Serve
No. 39 * May 11, 2016
Related Content from And There Came A Day:
- Teach & Serve No. 38 – May the Fourth and Other Teachings from a Galaxy Far, Far Away
- Teach & Serve No. 37 – Cool It
- Teach & Serve No. 36 – Do I Engage the Mission Every Day?
- Teach & Serve No. 35 – We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality, But Not in the Way One Might Think
I Love Trouble
Schools should embrace the right kind of trouble, not shy away from it.
Working in schools, we sometimes find ourselves in trouble, as it were. We find ourselves at odds with others. We find ourselves at loggerheads. We find ourselves emotionally keyed up and in stare downs across the faculty room. Often, we don’t know how we got into these situations. They seem to just happen.
I remember far too many of these sorts of moments from my time in schools. I remember staring down a colleague who was sure I mismanaged the timing of a field trip to such an extent that it impacted his afterschool activities with students. He was probably right. I remember standing in my principal’s office moments after he had appeared in my classroom to berate me in front of my kids. He was absolutely wrong. I remember all manner of conflict running the gamut from right to wrong stopping at all points in between.
This kind of trouble ought to be avoided. It’s bad for business.
However, not all trouble should be avoided and, for good or for ill, there are people with whom we work with whom we ought to be in trouble. Always be in trouble with the right people for the right reasons.
Once, in a conversation with fellow administrators about a teacher’s desire for assigned courses she would instruct the following year, I was told by someone a step up on the organizational chart: “it’s not your call.” At the time, I was serving as Assistant Principal for Faculty and Curriculum. By any stretch of the imagination, having input on what teachers (who, for better or worse, fell under my charge) would teach was a subject on which I held valid opinions, a subject with which I was intimately familiar. While the final decision rested with those above me – it was, in fact, their call – the idea that I was in conflict with this particular person over this particular decision didn’t upset me. That this person was heavy-handed and attempting to put me in my place with his language may have, but the fact that we disagreed did not.
This was the right fight to have, the right trouble to be in. This administrator was the right person to fight, the right person to be in trouble with.
I found myself in trouble with this person over-and-over again. Bracketing the ego I know I have and the argumentative nature that can be a part of me; bracketing the petty fights I may have instigated and the silly conflicts we may have had, the trouble I got into with this person was the right kind of trouble and this person was absolutely the right person to have trouble with. I suspect few tears were shed by this person when, years later, I left the school for different work in education. Frankly, this person should have shed tears and should have recognized our troubles as good ones.
The troubles we had centered on the different ways we thought students should be treated. They centered on we believed administration should partner with teachers. They centered on how parents be engaged. The troubles we had centered on issues of mission. They centered on fundamental questions of how we should proceed as a school.
The bottom line is that trouble in a school can be a change agent. Schools should embrace the right kind of trouble, not shy away from it. Schools should be happy for trouble over equally good ideologies, trouble around valid pedagogical methods, trouble about different ways to proceed when the ways to proceed seem similarly good.
Schools should love this kind of trouble.