At the beginning of the school year I spoke with my faculty and staff about the importance of presuming a positive intention when working with one another, working with students and communicating with parents.
At the most basic level, when we presume each person we interact with throughout the day has a positive intention, we free ourselves from any past perceptions of that individual and any baggage those perceptions may carry. Instead, we free ourselves to make each interaction we have with others about seeking what is possible. Rather than becoming defensive or trying to prove a particular point, we can become open to new and creative problem solving strategies which allow ourselves the freedom to actively listen to one another.
I won’t say it has been easy for me, my administrative team or my faculty and staff to adopt this philosophy. But I can share it has made each one of use more mindful in our interactions with one another and our community. This mindfulness has had the residual impact of taking some personal responsibility for the manner in which we communicate with those we work with everyday.
Personal responsibility may be one of the most important characteristics of “owning” ones intention.
As a school leader, often teachers darken my door to ask permission to try a new instructional strategy, test a new technology tool, or have a courageous conversation with a parent about their son or daughter. By seeking approval from the Principal, teachers are seeking validation in their decision making process and seeking cover if something goes wrong. However, this can have the unwanted consequences of removing responsibility from ones actions.
Consider the following scene. You are a Principal and a teacher knocks on your door and asks the following. “Is it okay if I try out the @SeeSaw app in my classroom?” In most cases I would guess you would be inclined to say, “Yes!” You may even be excited that a teacher is trying a new strategy in their classroom, especially if that teacher has been resistant to change in the past. Basically, the teacher is asking for permission to try something new in the classroom. On the surface, that is good thing, right? But at the end of the day if the new tech tool does not work, it’s no big deal for that teacher. He or she may say, “Just another app that didn’t work in the classroom.” Since there is no real investment from the teacher he or she could blame the technology for not meeting the classroom needs, the students for not meeting expectations, or even the Principal for pushing the teacher to try something outside their comfort zone.
But what if the conversation went differently? What if that teacher came to your office and said, “I intend to curate student work in order to build their academic portfolios. I think it may help them be reflective in their learning process. I think I am going to try using @SeeSaw to start the process.”
In this case, the teacher is stating the ultimate goal of the instructional strategy and taking ownership of how they see it unfolding. And if the new app does not work for that particular classroom, the possibility remains open to try other resources and technologies. In both cases, the ultimate goal was the same. To compile student work in order to give the students an opportunity to be reflective. However, the teacher that shared their intention to curate student work is focused on the process and not the outcome. By focusing on the process that teacher is “owning” their action to create student portfolio’s.
What might happen if we stop expecting teachers to ask for permission and start asking them share their intentions? I think teachers would feel more appreciated for their professionalism and expertise. I bet more teachers would be willing to try new strategies in the classroom and take ownership of the results. Good or Bad. And if a new strategy doesn’t work in the classroom…so, what? It is merely one step in the teachers learning journey, he or she has had one more opportunity to refine their instructional practice, and all the while, the students have seen an adult modeling a growth mindset.