Sometimes, we assume we know what an answer will be before we ever ask the question. Sometimes, our assumptions stop us from even asking the question in the first place. Sometimes, our assumptions lead us to build up resentments that are based on nothing other than our own, often faulty, perceptions. Sometimes, these assumptions can build a great divide between teachers and administrators.
I am lucky to work for an absolutely incredible principal. I could go on and on for many paragraphs explaining what makes him so wonderful, but I will save that for another blog post. One that I cannot wait to write.
But today, I am thinking about other relationships between teachers and administrators. Ones that aren’t quite so positive and I am thinking about what causes the seemingly impassible rift between these two groups of people who are both working towards the same goal: doing what is best for kids.
I am certain that there is no one single cause of the divide that exists between teachers and administrators. Some of it is the nature of the power structure that the educational system operates in. That is not something I am choosing to tackle. Some of it has to do with the demands put on administrators and the demands put on teachers. That is not one I am ready to wrestle with either. And I am sure that some of it also has to do with some not great people being administrators and some not great people being teachers. That is one I am certainly not going near today.
But some of it, I think, has to simply do with assumptions. And that is one thing that I think we can all start doing something about in this coming school year.
As teachers, it is so easy to assume that our administrators are going to put a stop to any idea that we have. Especially if it is one that is risky. So often times we simply don’t even bother to ask. We stay safely hidden away in our classrooms and maybe we try some smaller version of what we really want to do, but we don’t go all out because we “know” that our administrators will say no or tell us to stop or tell us that we need to be consistent.
Other times we go along with a new program even when it isn’t working for our students because we “know” that our administrators will tell us that this is the new program and we have to follow it as it is written. We don’t ask questions about why and we don’t ask questions about ways we might be able to improve on what we have been given. We don’t adjust. We don’t innovate. We don’t adapt. We just keep following along because we assume that is what our administrators want.
And still other times we do what everyone around us is doing even when it doesn’t feel right. Even when we see that it is not working for our students. We don’t want to make waves. We don’t want to cause trouble. We assume that our administrators want us all doing the same thing for our students.
And, yes, I recognize that sometimes these assumptions are true. These assumptions are based on previous experiences and prior encounters with administrators. We’ve all been told no before. We’ve all been called unprofessional for suggesting that we do things a different way. We’ve all sat in that chair and had some ask us to stop making things harder.
But I also know that sometimes these assumptions are just that. They are just what we assume administrators are thinking. And the truth is that sometimes these assumptions are wrong and all they do is serve to hold us back from making ourselves better and making our schools better. Often times we don’t know the whole story and often times we don’t know what our administrators answers will be until we just ask.
I have learned that nothing can be lost from asking. I have learned that if I can ask my questions respectfully and always come from a place of what I believe is best for students, then the worst that can happen is that I am told no. But I have also learned that sometimes the answer is yes.
And sometimes our administrators are working under their own assumptions. Sometimes they assume that we, as teachers, WANT things to be standardized and structured and all laid out for us. Sometimes they assume that we don’t want to do any extra work or extra thinking or extra struggling or extra projects. Sometimes they assume that by not asking for our new ideas they are supporting us by making our very difficult jobs a bit easier. Sometimes they assume that we all know that we can always come to them with new ideas. And so sometimes they assume that when they hear silence from us, as teachers, it is because everything is working just fine and we are not looking to make any changes.
So I am learning that is our responsibility, as teachers, to ask the questions. To bring new ideas. To plant the seeds.
Last year, I thought it would be great for our school to take part in the global cardboard challenge. I assumed that the answer would be no. I assumed that I would end up doing it on my own in my classroom. But instead, I brought the idea to my principal and then I brought the idea to the other teachers and we ended up having one of the most incredible days I have ever experienced as a teacher.
At the end of this past school year, I took a look at our new prepackaged social-emotional curriculum and I was terrified that I was going to have to teach the exact lessons as they were written which I knew would not work for me or for my students. I started to get in that ugly place that makes me say things in a way that NO ONE wants to listen to, but instead I took a deep breath and went to my principal. I told him my concerns, I shared with him my fears and he reassured me that he trusted that I would be able to look at the standards that needed to be met with this new program and find a way to meet them in a way that would work for my students.
This summer, I became obsessed with the idea of painting my classroom tables with whiteboard paint. i assumed that there was no way that my principal and district administrators would allow me to potentially ruin district property. But I asked anyway. And what do you know, the answer was yes. And now, thanks to my incredible wife, I am on my way to having the whiteboard tables in my classroom that I dreamt about (more on this to come).
But I would not have ever been able to do any of this if I lived based on my assumptions alone. Because in each situation, I assumed the answer was going to be no. But I asked anyway and both my students and I are so much better off because of that.
So as we move into this new school year, I am going to push myself to challenge my own assumptions. I am going to try to stop listening to the assumptions about my administrators that tell me not to ask for something new or something different or something challenging. I am going to try to believe that just because an administrator tells me “no” one time, that doesn’t mean that the answer will be “no” every time. And I am going to hope that by doing this, I will also push my administrators to challenge their own assumptions about me and about other teachers.
Because the truth is, we are all working towards the same goal, even if we have different ways of going about it. So if we work from the assumption that everyone is here to do what is best for kids, who knows how much further towards are shared goal we could possibly get.