I heard a teacher say, "My principal doesn't even know what I do. I'm not even sure he even cares." It's very likely true, even though the principal may not have any idea that the teacher feels this way. Based on my dissertation research, many teachers feel this way, and my master's level students getting their Educational Leadership degrees to become principals often hear me talking about the importance of relationship building with staff as quickly as possible, once hired.
Now, think back to your own childhood when you were in school. For some of us, that might be a longer stretch than the capacity of our memories. What type of thoughts did you have about your own teachers? For me, they were mostly positive. My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Edgerton, acknowledged my love for learning and reading but also recognized I needed a little extra TLC (read: I was pretty needy) after my parents had gotten a divorce. In 8th grade, the sternest teacher I ever had taught us science, particularly how to recognize different types of rocks, complete with a trip to Enchanted Rock near San Antonio, TX (I'm not trying to divert to playing tour guide, but if you haven't been, you really need to). But that isn't the main thing for which I remember Mr. Katzer. I remember him most for approaching me when my boyfriend had broken up with me. I thought, "Oh no, here it comes. This former Marine officer is going to tell me to quit crying in his science Lab". Instead, he leaned down and whispered in my ear, "I heard what happened. Just remember: there are a lot of fish in the sea, and you deserve a better fish, anyway." Fast forward to Trinity University, where Dr. John Moore, the department chair (who had awarded me a scholarship that even allowed me to attend Trinity) and my "boss" (as I was engaged in a work/study program through the Education Department), would call me into his office some days just to talk about education and life. There are so many pivotal educators who made an impact on my life as an educator and on my life as a human, and I pray you have those, too, even if some of them might be negative examples (someone who told you that you would never amount to anything, but you worked your hardest to prove them incorrect).
Fast forward to the workshops, consulting, and partnerships I am able to have developed with so many colleagues around the globe. Sure, as with all teaching, some days might be better than others, but I will admit---most of them are pretty darn amazing! I have the blessing to "work" with educational partners from Bogota', Colombia, the Virgin Islands, the Yukon Territory, schools all over Saskatchewan, universities, and many states in the U.S. I truly consider many of these people friends and thought partners. Every once in a great moon, I encounter a participant who seems too busy for the work we are doing. Maybe a teacher is texting on her phone when I have asked everyone to discuss some topic in table groups. Maybe it is a student in one of my graduate courses who is upset because they feel I graded their paper too harshly. Maybe a principal thinks they are needed at their school more than they are needed in the workshop I am facilitating. All of the above have happened once or twice. But I also often encounter a paradigm shift from the types of characters above. I firmly believe that, when such shift occurs, it is because the person and I have developed a relationship.
One such scenario recently took place for me. I had the benefit of being with a group for several days. On the first day, one of my participants was "compliant" but definitely not "engaged" (huge difference, right??). Picture the child who couldn't care less about school and then just add a few years and a few inches of height. Voila! You have a picture of my participant. I tried to joke; I tried to implore; I tried to institute reminders; I even tried to get the district group to help; nothing seemed to matter. Fast forward to Day 2---still using humor and passion, I attempted to engage this participant, when all of a sudden, break time came. He didn't leave the room. Instead, he came up to me and told me that he recognized he had been disrespectful to me and he apologized. I agreed it might be disrespectful but not as much to me as to the rest of his colleagues who wanted to learn with him and the teachers back at his school that he truly wanted to help get better. We talked all throughout the break, and a miraculous (or perhaps not so miraculous, depending on what we know about relationships) thing happened. He began engaging, nodding his head to something a colleague said, reading the material requested, asking questions aloud, and so much more. By the last day we were together, he came up to me at the end and said, "This is really important stuff. We should all get more great learning like this! Can you come back and teach us some more?" And then the clouds parted, the Heavens opened, and the angels sang, "Hallelujah!" (or maybe that was me singing "Hallelujah and pass the peas!").
Did I do something special? While I would love to take some credit for it, I simply cannot, other than I didn't give up. What made the difference was the relationship he and I began to form. He walked out with a major paradigm shift, and I walked out on Cloud 9, knowing that I cannot save every 'student' I teach; but for that one with whom I establish a caring relationship (two-way, by the way), it makes all the difference in the world!
I am eternally grateful God tapped me on the shoulder when I was six to tell me I better start teaching my stuffed animals how to read, as teaching was going to become my life's work. I pray that I still feel this same passion when I am 66, 76, and 86....and beyond.
Just for today, I pray you remember one of my favorite lines which has been attributed to both Teddy Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt (and many people since):
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