#HamstraHighlights

Leadership · Curriculum · STEM

Over the last few years, I must have been a listening ear (or a confident activator) in about 100 conversations related to…

Your Expiration Date.

The conversation goes something like this:

  • Classroom teachers are extremely overworked, under-paid, under-valued, and under-appreciated, to say the least.
  • Classroom teachers have the most interactions with our most treasured agents–kids! That makes classroom teachers extremely essential–they’re literally shaping, informing, and influencing our future.
  • Education is a moving target. It’s changing so fast that we simply can’t keep up with ourselves, our systems, our expectations, and the demands of a quickly changing world.
  • The moment you leave the classroom teacher position (if you were ever there in the first place) is the moment you start decreasing in value because you simply aren’t on board with the moving demands of classroom teachers anymore, and, therefore, your ignorance gap between you and the needs of classroom teachers widens steadily over time. As a result, your fading influence might be perceived as less relevant, less helpful, and just less.

Perhaps, I don’t whole-heartedly disagree with the fine print in the aforementioned statements. So why, then, does the phrase “Expiration Date” make me cringe? For me, it’s personal.

What I Learned Along the Way

My personal journey with the Expiration Date conversation was paved with potholes, false starts, regrets, and more learning opportunities:

  • A few years ago, I tweeted something like: “The problem in education is that we have a lot of people that have never been classroom teachers telling classroom teachers what to do.” So… That eventually became a My Bad episode. At the time, it was a career-changing experience and a vulnerable share for me. I learned a ton. From others.
  • More recently, I penned a blog about “The CrEDible Coach.” At the time, I thought it was thought-provoking, genuinely singing the praises of classroom teachers. Now, I realize that it was super ignorant, close-minded, and hurtful, especially given that I have close friends that serve in the coaching role, and I greatly appreciate them and their contributions. I really regret this post in which I boldly questioned the role and credibility of the coaching position, and yet I’m not deleting it because #HamstraHighlights is committed to its mission statement of demonstrating a learning progression over time–not just showcasing the best products that are flashy in the moment. Again, I learned a ton.
  • As a classroom teacher for well over a decade, I have had a lot of thoughts about how administrators could better serve the classroom teacher’s needs, and what administrators should be doing. It wasn’t until my recent MSA journey in which I learned about so many more responsibities in the role of a school administrator that my perspective changed in ways I could have never foreseen as a classroom teacher.
  • Along the same lines, I was so fascinated by how the term Instructional Leader was being defined (and potentially misused) that I researched it immensely. Again, my perspective changed over time.

I have more examples, but you do see where this is going… right?

I’ve Got Space to Hold ‘Em… ALL.

As a former classroom teacher myself, and, being married to a classroom teacher who works her heart out for kids every day, I’ve got space to hold multiple truths. For me, this is [no longer] an either-or, binary dilemma.

Classroom teachers matter. Non-Classroom teachers matter. Coaches matter. Administrators matter. All the roles matter and have a place in serving the lives of kids.

In addition, I believe that all roles can add value to each other. If we’ve proven anything in the COVID Era, it’s just how interdependent the education system and its professionals are with each other, families, and communities.

Why I’m No Longer Investing in the Expiration Date Conversation

Perhaps, by over-emphasizing the challenging truths of one position, we inadvertently imply that the challenges of other positions are less. Indeed, they are different, almost like comparing apples and oranges. Indeed, the classroom teacher has the most frequent interactions with kids, not to mention an incredibly demanding workload that’s vastly under-rated and under-valued. Yet, the law of unintended consequences is a slippery slope. If the intended goal is to better serve kids through classroom teachers, there just might be a ton of flies looking for honey.

The reason why the Expiration Date conversation isn’t constructive is because it causes non-classroom teachers to go on the defense immediately, feeling as if they have to unnecessarily justify their competence, relevance, and value in our profession.

The reason why I’m no longer investing in the Expiration Date conversation is because it’s not productive. It’s negative. It has no winners. It’s a one-way street with a dead end. It’s about being right instead of getting it right.

Let’s Shift the Conversation

Instead of calling people out with: What’s Your Expiration Date?

What if we called people in with: What’s Your Inspiration Date?

Inspiring Questions That Might Never Expire

  • How are you positively communicating needs and successes in your role? What solutions and strategies might you share with others?
  • Can your colleagues share how you’ve modeled vulnerability?
  • Have you practiced having crucial conversations, including giving and receiving feedback? They take practice to be successful.
  • Identify a bridge between you and another position. What makes it strong? How might you replicate that strength and connection in other areas?
  • How are you creating opportunities to connect with and better understand related positions? What needs to stop? What needs to start?
  • As an administrator, supervisor, director, coordinator, department chair, or team leader, how are you frequently communicating your vision, mission, daily job expectations, and collaborative opportunities with your people? Can your teams write down your mission statement on an index card from memory?
  • In our strategic plans, where are we highlighting job-sharing, silo-busting models? What have we tried in the last three years? How will we make it better?
  • If someone in the next classroom, school, or cubicle were out, could you effectively sub for them? Why or why not?
  • What are we taking off each other’s plates to make the necessary room for sustainable models of long-term, professional learning implementation with continuity and feedback loops?
  • What collaborative models have you seen at other classrooms, schools, or systems that work well? How might these potential pairings better collaborate: principals and classroom teachers, specialists and classroom teachers, central office and schools, coaches and teachers, grade levels with other grade levels? And all of these with students?
  • Regardless of your position in education: What are three things you’re going to do to strengthen your relationships, commitments, and empathy with classroom teachers? With students? How will they know that you see them, hear them, appreciate them, and are willing to collaborate with them in very specific ways?
  • How is your school intentionally addressing inequities to grow in community-responsiveness?

What other inspiring questions might you add to help all roles collaborate with more efficiency, perspective, empathy, flexibility, and synergy?

What’s Your Inspiration Date?

Is it a fresh start in 2021? The 2021-2022 school year? Tomorrow?

How about… right now?

2 Replies to “What’s Your Inspiration Date?”

  • Kyle, I really appreciate the nuanced perspective that you bring to this topic (and your willingness to be vulnerable about previous opinions that have evolved over time). I disagree with you in some small ways, but I align with your overall point.

    For me, there is one more element here. It seems obvious that many coaching roles would be more effective if they retained relevance through classroom contact. Many educators in these roles do this, but it’s not easy and it’s not officially part of their job description. Instead of stamping an expiration date on each teacher who leaves the classroom, why not give them the opportunity to have the greater impact that they seek while remaining in a classroom. There are many ways to do this, from job share scenarios to the enhanced teaching roles that Opportunity Culture has piloted in several NC districts. And, best of all, it discourages those who simply don’t want to teach anymore from filling roles that would be best inhabited by passionate educators who want to keep forging relationships with students and making a difference while simultaneously having a larger impact on the profession and their school.

    Thanks for your leadership, transparency, and inspiration, Kyle!

    Paul

  • Interesting conversation, Kyle.

    What I think you are missing in this post is an acknowledgement of the power disparity between the positions that you mention. It’s the “all lives matter” argument.

    Sure, “all positions matter” — but every one of the positions beyond the classroom that you mention — coaches, administrators, counselors, central office staffers — has more organizational power, authority and recognition than classroom teachers.

    That means they can lay claim to professional expertise that they may/may not have and never be forced to prove it. More importantly, they can never be challenged about their expertise because they are in positions of authority. They don’t have to answer to anyone.

    Let me give you an example of that kind of thinking: A superintendent of a large district in North Carolina once told a principal candidate that he never had to prove to his teachers that he was a competent instructor. His argument was that by virtue of earning a principal’s position, he had already proven that he had what it took to be the instructional leader of the school.

    That’s the kind of thinking that percolates through many people who have left the classroom — and it is dangerous because it leads people to rest on their laurels. When you don’t push yourself to continue to understand the day-to-day realities of the classroom, good luck trying to make responsible choices for what you want people in the classroom to do on a day to day basis.

    The other thing people in those roles like to do is say things like, “I was a teacher for 10 years! I know what teaching is like!” That’s built on the theory of false transparency. Just because those folks did the job once — or know someone who is still doing the job — doesn’t mean that you have an accurate sense of what the job is today.

    That would be like a doctor who hasn’t been in an operating room in years saying, “I used to do this all the time! Gimme the scalpel. I’m sure I still know what I’m doing!” or “I still know lots of doctors! I can do this.”

    That kind of thinking is demeaning to our profession. It suggests that nothing changes from year to year — and as long as you were successful once, you are always going to be successful.

    That’s just not true.

    So, when it comes to expiration dates on folks beyond the classroom, I do think they exist.

    That doesn’t mean people beyond the classroom don’t do important work.

    But it does mean that the people with the best understanding of what happens in the classroom are still the people who are actually still there.

    My only wish is that the folks who move beyond the classroom would stop trying to steal that authority and expertise from us.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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