Wednesday, April 24, 2013

More empathy, less apathy

"Treat people with understanding when you can, and fake it when you can't until you do understand."- Kim Harrison

I'm going to admit publicly that there was a time I uttered the phrase "It must be nice to be an administrator. No lesson plans, no grading. They are never around. Always in meetings and who knows what they do?" Admit it. You've probably said it too.  I'm not proud of it.  But an interesting thing happened to me in my new role as a full time learning coach. I began to see the many different roles we all play in helping students learn. And I have had colleagues tell me "It must be nice to be a coach. No lesson plans, no grading. We never see you. You are always in meetings. What exactly do you do again?" It doesn't feel so nice.

This post is not about me justifying my job as a coach, nor is it about making others feel bad for me. It's about empathy. It's about trying to see things from a different perspective. It's about teachers being willing to explore more than just their own classroom needs. It's about administrators being willing to put aside their building or district needs to help support the realities of each individual classroom teacher and their students. It's about us checking our ego at the door and doing what is best for all. It's about committing to more communication and collaboration.  It's about each of us seeking to understand the vital and important role we each play in the life of every child who walks through our doors. As Angela Maiers would say it's truly believing that each and every one of us matters.

As teachers, we are quick to shift the burden of blame onto our colleagues, our building principal, district administration, parents and far too often: onto our students. So here is my challenge to you: The next time you find yourself blaming someone (or something)  else: stop, pause, count to ten, and then try and envision the life and experiences of the person you are blaming. Think about what they might be feeling about this situation. Think about what their reality might be like. Try and put yourself in their shoes. Try to see the world through their eyes.  Ask yourself why they make the choices they do. Don't accuse them. Don't judge them. Don't put them into a  little box. Don't label them.  This is tough work. Especially if you don't know them well or have rarely engaged in deep conversation with them.

Now here comes the tougher part: Go sit beside them and genuinely seek to understand them and the decisions they have made.

Ask them for their perspective. Ask them to share their ideas and philosophies. Don't question or challenge them. Seek to understand. Listen. Be present with them. Take the time to establish a relationship built on honest dialogue and respect. It does not mean you must agree with them.  Acknowledge their truths. Don't try to fix them or change them. Accept that their perceptions are their realities.

Far too many believe that what ails public education is out of their control. What we can control is how we relate to one another. If you are a teacher: When was the last time you had an honest and respectful  conversation with a colleague you disagreed with? When was the last time you had an honest and respectful conversation with your building principal about the culture and structures of the building? When was the last time you went and sat in the office of the superintendent and had an honest and respectful conversation about your hopes and dreams for the students in your district?  If you are an administrator: When was the last time you asked your teachers to share their perspectives on the culture of your building? When was the last time you sat down one on one with a teacher and asked them about their vision and dreams?   When was the last time you opened up about your own dreams for your school?

We all have responsibility in seeking out and continuing the conversation.  As teachers, we speak of being frustrated, paralyzed, demoralized, and  apathetic. But we are not in this boat alone. We row alongside students, parents, and administrators who are equally frustrated, paralyzed, demoralized, and apathetic because they feel that their voice is lost and that they too are misunderstood. We will always have differences in opinion and perspective. We will always have different experiences that shape our realities. But we have much more in common than we realize. More importantly, we have the one true thing in common: a love and desire to help others learn and grow.

We can change the culture of our classrooms, buildings, and communities one conversation at a time. We can eliminate a culture of blame.  It begins with empathy. Seek to understand. And fake it until you finally do.

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