The days have been getting shorter for some time, the powerful light of summer has softened in increments, and the tens of thousands of years of living exposed to the elements drive us to seek shelter, warmth, and the comfort of friendly faces. Our most important ceremonies of coming together as families and communities take place in the coldest, darkest months (for us in the Northern Hemisphere); food, gifts, being surrounded by familiarity – being acknowledged as an irreplaceable part of something bigger. All of these feelings validate us on the deepest levels as humans.
Yet they aren’t enough to make our schools seedbeds for dynamic thinking and agile responsiveness to the needs – and talents – of each child. The typical school campus isn’t made up of one family; it’s an often uncomfortable juxtaposition of many families, adults who over the years and decades form inexorable bonds (personally, professionally) that nothing can break – no compelling data (effectiveness of homework?), no innovation, no outside influence. A school staff is a geologic stratum; different clusters of people forming layers and bonds upon their arrival, holding memory of the seasons, and not necessarily co-mingling with those that settle into place later. Rather than base our work on the best ideas, these “family-first” cultures operate based on allegiance.
Simply put, the default action of an allegiance-based culture is to protect its friends rather than considering new approaches – or ending old ones. This culture will claim that “they” (site admin, district leadership, teachers not on their team) aren’t trustworthy or transparent – yet much of their own work is done in secret, building alliances (and sometimes even involving students in their advocacy) to preserve what they know, “the way things used to be.”
So do we REALLY ever move past middle school…? (Courtesy of Mr. McMullen’s class)
In 2015 we must look beyond the comfort of friendships and extend ourselves to build relationships across our schools. This will mean taking risks. It will mean reaching out to people that, despite years of working on the same campus, are virtual strangers. We need to set aside our quiet hypocrisies (we expect all kids will collaborate, be respectful of others, listen to and consider divergent viewpoints…) and set ourselves loose from the bedrock of our own making. Let’s imagine ourselves co-mingling in an ever-growing avalanche, our schools breaking apart and reforming around us as we go – a collective act of relinquishing both control and knowledge of how everything will settle (assuming anything ever truly settles).
Are there adults who are difficult for us to be around? Adults who may, over time, tell stories we know to be ever- shifting (and blurred) versions of the more complex truth? Adults who are slow to support their peers as they explore new practices? Yes. Yet when we put aside our anger with them – and, more selfishly, our deep frustration at their unwillingness to recognize us and our ideas – we remember how many people are trying new things every day. We remember that many of the people we may have legitimate reasons to be angry with in fact have much to offer – they are pouring their heart into their work every day as well.
I love this scene from Spider Man 2 – what it means to put the baggage aside and look forward in addressing a mutual cause.
“There are bigger things happening here than me and you.”
Here is the ONE question assessment to give yourself – and your organization – in 2015. It digs down to why we should pay attention to how much time we’re spending with our friend group – which, honestly, feels like a really unfair thing to ask. After all, friendships can be the root of the most trusting, open, dynamic, collaborative and innovative practices.
Friendship clusters can also be the echo chambers that reinforce everything we “know” about our work. They can be the place where our willingness to push ourselves starts to atrophy – the place we go to seek comfort in the company of like-minded individuals. Ask yourself this follow up: “Do I spend as much time developing and sustaining professional relationships as I do my “working friendships?”
What feelings come up when you disagree with someone? Head for safe harbor, or square off in battle?
We’re edging towards the winter solstice…our friends even further north see very little (to none) of the sun. 2015 will soon be born with hopes of healthy, vibrant, confident school cultures – healthy enough to see disagreement as fuel for more enduring growth, confident enough to seek out and sustain collaborative relationships between those that aren’t friends. Take time each day to show gratitude to those around you (adults and kids) and to move beyond the warm comfort of your circle of like-mindedness.
It’s a rare thing to have someone that is not a friend reach out and say,”Hey, let’s partner on this idea,” or, “Hey, I’d really like to learn from you.” So, as 2015 approaches, who is going to go first? Who is going step out on a limb to create a partnership that goes beyond friendship? And who is going to be brave enough to welcome that person (maybe someone they don’t like) into their heart?
Remember – the holidays are when we fight the most too, but we love them all the same.