Teach & Serve No. 24 – Sliding Not Deciding

Teach & Serve 

No. 24 * January 27, 2016


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Sliding Not Deciding

Decisions and the processes we go through to make them define who we are as teachers and administrators.

Educational professionals make decisions.

Wait, let me state that another way: educational professionals are often called upon to make decisions. Important ones. No, that’s too strong. One more try here: educational professionals can be called into many situations and scenarios in which decisions must be made. Not quite right. One more attempt: educational professionals are frequently faced with having to make decisions.

Terrible… it seems hard (at least for the purposes of trying to illustrate my point in this post day) to simply and clearly state that teachers and administrators make decisions. I think there are many reasons why this is true, but let’s clear one thing up for purposes of this discussion. Making decisions is different than making choices. Teachers and administrators are asked to make choices constantly. Which book will we read? What unit comes first? Which teacher will have what “other duty as assigned”? And so on and so on. These are choices, not decisions. Choices are important, no question about that, and choices fill our days as teachers and administrators. But decisions are bigger deals. Decisions and the processes we go through to make them define who we are as teachers and administrators.

DecisionsThe longer one spends in education, the more time an individual puts into the job, the more likely she or he is to be asked to make decisions or to take part in some decision making process that will be important to the school. As opposed to choices, the types of decisions to which I am referring here have high stakes, impact and gravitas. These decisions affect our future as educators and the future of our schools. Decisions are about who we are and what we want to be. Decisions can change the course of our professional lives and alter the direction of our institutions.

Decisions are big deals.

So, how to we arrive at them? What process do we employ? What do we do – as individuals and as schools – to make decisions?

My fear is that, often, we don’t. We don’t actually make decisions. Sure, we embark on a process. We have conversations. We weigh the pros and cons. We engage. We talk. Through this, clarity about the direction we might want to go sometimes emerges. Sometimes it does not.

The trouble with decisions is that they are, in fact, big deals and they do, in fact, have a lot at stake in their making. As such, they can cause tension and disagreement. They can foster unrest. They can make us uncomfortable because they are not choices, they are decisions and the ones we make – and how we make them – says something about who we are and charts the course of where we are going.

As administrators and teachers, we are well served to have practiced our decision making process before we actually have to make any decisions. We better know how we make decisions and the manner in which we do so prior to actually making some. At the end of the day, our decisions are just things. They are results. Decisions are made and we and our colleagues agree with them, disagree with them, celebrate them, revile them. Decisions are things. And, frankly, they are less important, sometimes, than the process with how we made them.

As we engage in making decisions, it can be easier to settle. It can be less challenging to ourselves and our communities to ease into decisions, to slide into them. When we know we’re staking a claim for our future, it’s natural to approach with trepidation and caution. With second guessing. Without confidence.

It’s easy to slide into new positions. It’s harder to reach out and take them.

Let us be confident in how we do so, confident in the process we employ and confident in our decisions. Let us practice and make perfect. We will be stronger teachers and administrators when we develop facility making decisions. We will be stronger leaders when we stop sliding into our positions and start deciding them.

Our students and our staffs should know us as decision makers.

Educational professionals make decisions.

Teach & Serve No. 20 – Do or Do Not… Wait, Isn’t There a Try?

Teach & Serve 

No. 20 * December 15, 2015

THE NEXT TEACH & SERVE WILL BE PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2016.


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DO OR DO NOT… WAIT, ISN’T THERE A TRY?

There’s got to be a “try.”

Unless you live under a rock on the forest moon of Endor (or you’ve intentionally willed yourself to be unaware of these sorts of things), you know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters world-wide this week. It’s certain to be a hit with movie goers of all ages, shapes and sizes. It’s likely to be a global phenomenon and I am very much okay with that. Though I truly have tried to keep myself blissfully ignorant of what actually happens in the movie until I see it (preview showing on Thursday 12.17, thank you very much!), I can make a few educated guesses:

It will be full of characters drawn in broad, moral strokes.

Good and evil will be easily identified.

Heroes will lose; heroes will win.

Lines from the movie will be quoted for years to come (this has already started “it’s all true” and “Chewie, we’re home” being two of the tastiest thus far).

Again, I am very good with all of this, especially the quotes which will become part of our culture. Lines from the Star Wars movies have been in our collective consciousness since George Lucas first unspooled A New Hope in 1977 (it was only called “Star Wars” back then, but we won’t go into that kind of geeky minutiae). Most of the lines we volley back-and-forth to each other are iconic, very cool and fun to wrap our heads and tongues around.

But… but, there is one that kind of bothers me as an educator. I understand the point that is being made by the speaker of the quote, and it is, perhaps, the right point in the moment, but I would be very leery of any educator who made this particular quote the cornerstone of her or his educational philosophy.

Do or Do Not

“Do, or do not, there is no try” says Yoda to a despondent Luke Skywalker. Luke has been challenged by Yoda to use the Force to lift Luke’s X-Wing fighter from out of the Dagobah swamp where it crash landed. Luke responds: “I’ll give it a try” which brings on Yoda’s admonition.

So, yes, in this context, I get it. Hey, Luke, don’t just give it a little effort. Be all in or all out. Sure. Yes. Right. Check. In this context, I get it.

However in the context of the work we do with students in classrooms and with our colleagues on our staffs, isn’t there an awful lot of room for “try”? Isn’t that what we want students to do when they are confronted by new possibilities? Don’t we want them to try things out? Don’t we want our students to fearlessly attempt new things precisely because we’ve created environments wherein they are safe to try and fail?

Don’t our colleagues who are early experimenters with new technology or who take on a new mode of instruction or attempt a new kinds of simulation with their students sometimes impress us as much with their failures and their learnings from those failures as they do with their inevitable successes? What if Yoda was there telling them not to try?

C’mon, Yoda! Give us a little space to learn from trying, from failing.

Yoda is pretty hard on Luke and perhaps he has to be as Luke is “our last hope,” but cut the kid a little slack, right? Do you grade on the curve, Professor Yoda, or is it all pass/fail with you. Sure, I get it, it’s going to be pass/fail when Luke gets his hand cut off by Darth Vader and, yes, I know you’ve been training Jedi for 800 years… but, as an educator, perhaps you might take a page from Obi Wan Kenobi’s book. Obi Wan encourages Luke to try, knowing that he will likely, on his first attempts, fail. Obi Wan creates an environment for Luke where it’s okay to fail and to learn from the failure.

Those are the teachers and administrators I want around me: those who set up environments where it’s okay to explore, to fail, to learn and to grow. I want the teachers and administrators who encourage risk, who ask for creativity, who allow students and colleagues to challenge barriers. These are the teachers and administrators who inspire others to be better and to grow.

Of course, if Yoda wanted to join my staff, I’d let him because, hey, he’s Yoda!