Someone told me this week that teachers at my school are afraid of me. You can well imagine that this would be unwelcome news to a leader who is working hard to build a culture of autonomy, innovation, and excellence. Furthermore, I take great personal pride in developing relationships with everyone on our team. I spend a great deal of time engaged in professional conversations in the hall, in the lunchroom, and in classrooms with teachers. Perhaps some folks seem less comfortable around me than others, but scared? Surely not!
Once I heard the whole story, though I began to hope that it is true. You see, according to my “source”, teachers aren’t scared of me personally or of how I will treat them. The issue is that I make them uncomfortable. Professionally. This is great news to me because it is exactly what I am trying to do. I believe that no great accomplishments are achieved by individuals who are satisfied with the status quo. I also believe that leadership by fiat does not lead to sustainable change (with apologies to those of my local, state and national superiors who appear to believe otherwise). The conclusion I have drawn as a result of these beliefs is that I must engage in the practice of asking reflective questions. So I do. All the time. So much so, in fact that my assistant principal asked if I was feeling all right on Friday when I didn’t ask her any questions about an update she gave me.
It seems to me that if through reflection a teacher comes to the conclusion that his/her practice could be improved and seeks the means to do so, such a change is much more likely to become permanent than any methodology or technique or strategy I could mandate. I’m trying to change the way my teachers think about teaching and learning. If they do, changes their practice will follow naturally. If they do, the impact will last the rest of their careers. Such paradigm shifts will also have an excellent chance of being so powerful as to infect their peers, both now and in the future.
In the meantime, though, it would be much easier for everybody if I would accept the fact that I work with the best faculty around and relax a little bit. Unfortunately, I have funny ideas about what standards we should be holding ourselves to. Maybe we’ve been asking the mirror the wrong questions for too long. One thing the National Board Certification process taught me: the day I stop reflecting on my practice should be the day after I retire. By my calculations, that day is still a good twenty years away. Until then, I intend to continue huffing and puffing.