Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creating Conversations Worth Having at School: Leading with the Heart

Community is Infinite (M.A Reilly, 2012)

I am engaged with primary grade teachers in a workshop when one says, "If I run over the scheduled time I will be written up. Teachers cannot deviate from the posted schedule." 
Another adds, "I was told by my principal that I had to time students when they read and that a running record without it being timed is wrong." 
A third chimes in: "I realized my students were struggling and instead of continuing in the small group as a guided situation, I read the story to the children and we discussed it. I was told  that I had done the lesson wrong and not to do it again."

As I think about these comments and the potential conversations that are needed, I consider that the first important act in this work we are doing with inner city primary grade teachers and school administrators is to bear witness and listen.  The second is to remember that what I write here is more for my benefit than anyone else.  These are lessons I need to remember because it is  often easier to slip into evaluative discourse when confronted with the complexity of teaching and learning. At such time, I know it is hard to lead from the heart.

My response to the group today was a request that they begin to contemplate how they might initiate a change in the discourse at school so that richer and more complicated conversations can happen between and among faculty.  There are compelling reasons for everyone--students, teachers,  administrators, and coaches--to work and situate ourselves as learners.  In order to prevent reading and writing difficulties with children, we will need to problematize the work of teaching and learning through critical and caring conversations.  To do this well requires that we exercise our imagination and become (other)wise.

Listen to Maxine Greene (2007) who in a lecture on the imagination writes this:

For John Dewey, facts are mean and repellent things until imagination opens intellectual possibility...It is often said that imagination is the capacity to look at things as if they could be otherwise; and, surely, if we ourselves might come to a point of being yet otherwise than we have become, our altered perspective might well enable us to break with a fixed and one-dimensional view and look at things as if they too could be otherwise. 

Our capacity to become (other)wise is connected to imagining--to pausing and wondering why the administrator or the teacher did or said X.  Imagining and inquiring opens us to the possibility of richer conversations than those that are gotten when commands and counter-commands are uttered.

We have so much to learn about, from, and with one another--especially when we are trying on new or revised ways of teaching and leading.  Again, turning to Maxine Greene and listening carefully can be helpful. She closes the speech by saying:

To be enabled to activate the imagination is to discover not only possibility, but to find the gaps, the empty spaces that require filling as we move from the is to the might be, to the should be. To release the imagination too is to release the power of empathy, to become more present to those around, perhaps to care.
And so tonight as I think about the complex work at hand--how deeply the administrators and teachers and those of us working as coaches care about the children and the work, I am wondering how to nudge the discourse from one that is overly steeped in evaluative language--to one where the heart leads and our capacity to become (other)wise is strong and unwavering.

1 comment:

  1. For John Dewey, facts are mean and repellent things until imagination opens intellectual possibility..The reminder of this helps me with my work now.