There isn’t a day that goes by where my inbox doesn’t have a message from an amazing educator or leader who is frustrated with a colleague, co-teacher, principal, superintendent, or school board member who: 1.) Ignores an important issue or 2.) "Lets things go” because it is easier to just let them go.
Almost always, the frustration has to do with how some educators wake up in the morning only to kick the can down the hallway and some of us want to change this so badly, ourselves.
I am often asked, “What can I do to help stop the maddening cycle of education that I feel trapped in and what can I do to help others to not be so complacent?”
These are tough questions.
There is so much to manage and lead in schools. Paperwork mounts up, reports must be filed for "this and that," and typical processes used for running schools are often carried out by status quo structures and practices.
Some of the same assemblies go on in our schools and the same magician might be regularly invited to the school picnic each year because no one really complains. Some superintendents even use the same board agendas each year hoping that their new contracts will include a few more vacation days because they are tired. The school building might look the same and students can expect that much of everything will probably stay the same when they return the next year unless a teacher or school leader ignites them, sets their passion for learning on fire with incredible amounts of motivational propane!
These noble educators are the change-makers, the sun-dancers. These are the educators who will question why we do the same things and end up only getting the same results. They call out those who are just pushing papers around on desks. They step up and try to take on the world. They want to crush the status quo and they put incredible pressure on themselves when doing so. They mean well, but ultimately they become unwell when trying to fix the world.
Because we can’t control others and we can’t control everything around us. And, we all know this, but we struggle to come to grips with it because we are trying like hell to do the very best for our students and we go to bed at night thinking about how to better fight the good fight the next day.
So, we continue to try and try and try to crush status-quo structures and as a result, we might only end up alienating ourselves from others within our school or district as we try to stand for something other than “looking forward to retirement.”
But, there is hope. There really is. Just as students are looking for us to ignite a spark for them, this is what we can do with our colleagues who are not doing their best for children. It is the gentle war that will win over the bloody battles taking place in department meetings or faculty rooms. It is a war of “sparks” that will prevail and with blasting out as many courageous sparks filled with innovation and enthusiasm, we might kindle or re-kindle just one person tomorrow who can help us kindle another educator the next day and the next day and the next . . .
So, what are “sparks” exactly? Here are a few examples of how to stay positive and hopeful about spreading positive changes in your school or district:
1. You try something new at your school. You are excited about it. You share your good news with some colleagues.
2. You tell an amazing story about a student who saw success in some way and link it to a meaningful outcome. You share your good news with some colleagues.
3. You activate student voice by asking students what they think about something that you do which could be better if changed. You share your good news with some colleagues.
4. You exude excitement about something that you recently learned. You share your good news with some colleagues.
These kinds of “sparks” ignite your happiness and drive for positive change and they don’t focus on a desire to simply change others. When sparks are ignited, they have incredible potential to consume others and that is how you can make change without burying yourself with every burden of the world. Patience is a must, as well. You can cultivate others; it just might take some time.
Spread the soil around and leave the bulldozer keys in your desk.