I don’t want to! You can’t make me!

change.pngThis year I’ve kind of avoided sitting on committees in my district–I got a little burned out, frustrated with glacial progress or the feeling that I was complicit in something mildly malignant.  But I’m back in the game this week with two meetings, one on technology planning and another on ELA pacing guides.  Coincidentally, I was asked about my thoughts on the plans for an upcoming PD day for all district teachers.

So here’s where I’m stuck–change is hard.  As someone who considers herself to be an “early adopter” of new ideas in teaching and learning (at least relative to what I perceive around me), I really want to jump in, share my experiences and questions, collaborate with colleagues toward professional, progressive learning communities…so I suggest we use PD time to bring in, say, units of study in writers’ workshop we’ve designed to share and exchange feedback.  To me this sounds really useful, and I believe in teachers teaching teachers (props to the TCs of RCWP who showed me the power of this!). 

But can we do it?  What if people refuse?  My thinking on why we don’t call for professional sharing and collaboration–people are scared.  We’re all so afraid to be judged and found wanting–myself included, it totally sucks not to be perfect (no sarcasm intended) in a profession where it feels like perfection is expected, regardless of the “teachers are heroes” rhetoric.  And fear gets masked in all sorts of ways in my own experience–denial, anger, obstinence, apathy.  I’ve heard the excuses (but I don’t have easy access to materials/technology/fillinscarceresourcehere, they don’t give us time, I’m too old, the old way works fine, etc.).  And I’ve heard the anger. And I’ve beheld the apathy, which scares ME most.

And I’ve heard the administrators and curriculum leaders complaints about these people–the underlying assumption being they are lazy or uncaring or not intelligent/talented enough, at least to my ears.  So the conversation for change-making surrounds how to coerce compliance.  But if I know anything from teaching, it is this–you can’t force people to learn what YOU want them to learn unless they want that learning as well.  Oh, and one other thing–scared people don’t learn well.  Sounds like one of my pre-service teaching courses when I read it over.  But it rings true from where I stand now, six years into a 30 year career. 

So if we assume a percentage (a small percentage, but significant) of my colleagues (or any district teaching staff) are responding from a place of fear to new pedagogies, technologies, and whathaveyou…how does that change the way we approach introducing, learning, teaching, and supporting professional growth as a community?  Do we design communication systems differently?  How does on-site PD look?  Who helps plan and implement that PD?  How do we cultivate a sense of safety that is essential to learning?  What kind of ongoing support continues momentum begun during formal PD, especially for the people who are/were scared?  How do we remember that scared is not the same as stupid, mean, or uninvested?

I’m smiling, thinking that if I framed this in terms of kids and not colleagues, lots of teachers would be brimming with successful strategies they’ve employed to put students at ease, establish emotionally safe social norms, encourage positive risk-taking, self-reflection that nudges learning, support for each and every day of learning.  This is a big part of what we do! 

So why isn’t it happening for us when we are the learners?  I’m worried that until I understand this, all the committee work in the world will not realize my hopes as an educator for myself, my fellow teachers, and the students who depend on us to give the best we are capable of.  A hanging preposition seems like the appropriate note to end on.


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