I read a great blog post by Mandy Froehlich called Three Ways Resentment Impacted My Engagement as a Teacher. She felt disengaged by education at one point partially due to resentment. She felt resentment towards herself, other teachers, and especially people with different jobs within the organization. She shares how she learned to move past it to a healthy place. “The biggest favor that I did for myself in this area was to let go of the resentment and begin working on who I wanted to be. I could sit back and see if it would happen to me or I could make tiny changes that would eventually add up to bigger ones. I had to understand that someone else’s success or talent did not diminish my own. On the contrary, keeping those people close enhanced any growth that I was trying to accomplish.”
I always enjoy reading Mandy’s blog as she is very real about many of the struggles we all share, but this post really resonated with me given the work I get to do with and for our teachers. As a district, we are dedicated to providing equitable opportunities for all learners by embedding the Deeper Learning competencies across all disciplines in a way that makes the learning authentic and personal to the learner and the teacher. Part of my job is to guide our professional development plan to make that happen and, within that, create a space for people to feel good about where they are in their practice so they can best learn from others in and out of our district. We want our teachers to recognize what they already do well and learn how to make a shift of practice that will better empower our learners and close the opportunity gaps that currently exist.
While we have committed to holding the deeper learning competencies in common across all eighteen schools, a school’s or teacher’s pathway to get there is based on their learners and their school community. Our goal is that each of our eighteen schools will become a deeper learning school within the next three to five years wherein the learners can be self-directed and connected to our greater community as the wall-to-wall, every day experience. We want all eight thousand of our learners to feel a sense of belonging that makes them want to contribute and create while becoming problem solvers, collaborators, and communicators who can demonstrate their high levels of content mastery through authentic learning experiences. Clearly, this is a massive task that requires a lot of professional development, reflection, and growth by everyone in our organization. It also takes time and focus, which is why we have set that goal over multiple years and developed processes and systems to support school teams as they work to figure it all out. It is also why we are careful to add tools and resources when the evidence tells us they are needed versus introducing any new initiatives.
We now have many teachers across our district accomplishing learner-driven, authentic, cross-curricular experiences in really profound ways. This work is creating access, especially for learner groups that have been historically marginalized, to close the opportunity gaps frequently created in schools. It takes a careful balance to celebrate those early adopters and ask them to share their stories with others who are just starting to do the work without creating the resentment Mandy spoke about in her post. We have more and more teachers ready to share their journey and present at our professional development days each time they get the chance. It is incredible to see how many of our teachers are feeling the confidence it takes to try things, grow, and share, but it also starts to become self-doubt for some who are not there yet. We don’t want them resenting others who are simply further along in the process. We want everyone to do exactly what Mandy said, to make tiny changes that eventually lead to large ones by getting to see a colleague who happens to be one or several steps farther along in the work of becoming a deeper learning classroom.
As a district leadership team, we work with teachers from each of our eighteen school sites to get input on where teachers are and what they need from us next for professional development. We hope that this helps our staff not to resent the jobs we hold and better understand that our jobs as district-wide leaders are about supporting learners and teachers. We will spend some time at our next professional development day sharing how innovation through embedding the competencies leads to equitable opportunities for all with our secondary teachers as the feedback we received from this group helped us to see that that part of our work is not clear yet. They understand we want to create equity for all learners and that we want our classrooms to be authentic and innovative, but they do not yet see the connection between the two. What we thought we were going to do on that day is really different than where we started, which is better as it means we have listened to what our teachers need and adjusted the plan to meet those needs just like we ask them to do with learners every day.
The feedback was also an opportunity for me to reflect. I needed to realize that while I live and breathe equity, inclusion, and learner empowerment work every day through my social media feeds, books I read, my professional network, the podcasts I hear, and the conferences I attend, not everyone else has the same level of exposure. It was unfair to expect that all our teachers, some of whom have not yet had the same opportunities through professional development to see those connections, are ready to take the next steps. I am grateful that we have created a space where teachers felt comfortable being honest with us about what they need. It gives us the chance to clarify that it is not equity or deeper learning it is equity through deeper learning. When every learner has strong relationships with staff and sees meaning in the learning, we have created a pathway to equitable opportunities.
We use a human Likert scale to help our leaders and our teachers in our professional development planning group see where they are now and how they are moving. We stand next to signs that say “starting to understand deeper learning as a pathway to equity”, “doing deeper learning activities as a pathway to equity”, “an equitable deeper learning classroom”, or “an equitable deeper learning school”. The language has evolved to be more explicit about our purpose each time we ask people to place themselves on the scale down a hallway or across a room. It puts a visual to the idea that it is perfectly fine to be somewhere on the continuum as long as you are on it and always moving one step the right by trying small things that turn into big things with the confidence to know we will support you as you try. We need to continue to make it clear that we expect all teachers are connecting to learners on a deep level and creating authentic learning experiences that provide opportunities to demonstrate rigorous skills in content mastery, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and self-direction. We also need to continue to provide as many professional development opportunities as possible for teachers to learn how to do that so that they don’t feel resentment towards anyone who may know more right now.
We have worked hard to shift some language from “the” district to “our” district. We are in this together and want people to know that and feel a sense of belonging to our why that makes it more comfortable to learn from a teacher in another school or at another grade level. I appreciate this quote by Dennis Waitley, “Success is not a pie with a limited number of pieces. The success of others has very little bearing on your success. You and everyone you know can become successful without anyone suffering setbacks, harm, or downturns.” We all need to concentrate on the small things we can learn from one another that make us one step better instead of waiting for the grand moment when everything will change. If we wait too long for that to happen, we will miss the thousands of chances we had to take the small steps that can help us feel successful in our work no matter what anyone else is doing.