Today on gallup.com, results of a survey conducted by Shane Lopez and Preety Sidhu show that new teachers are amongst the most engaged employees when they start their careers, with 35.1% of new teachers reporting they are engaged by their work. I’m not sure that 35.1% engagement is cause for celebration. The data still show that many teachers are not engaged. Additionally, the data reveal that although teachers start out with the highest level of engagement, 35.1%, engagement dramatically drops to 27.9% for teachers with 3 – 5 years experience. After a few years, most teachers report that they are not engaged.
Why is that? What is it that is leading to such low levels of engagement? The data again are informative. Lopez and Sidhu’s survey results also show that teachers are the least likely of all occupations to say, “at work my opinions seem to count.” Think about that. Teachers are less likely to think their opinion counts than service workers, repair workers, bus drivers, construction workers, or in fact, any category of employee.
And do you think teachers are on verge of getting more voice in their professional learning? My worry is they are not. With the roll out of common core, which often involves a small team developing a curriculum and then imposing it on the rest of the staff, there is a danger that teachers will have even less voice (even though your child’s teacher already thinks her opinion counts less than does the barista who sold you a coffee today).
What would it mean if teachers were more engaged? What if, instead of 27.9% engagement, teachers were 80% engaged? What would it mean for our children and for this country?
We can give teachers a voice in what they do and we should. Maybe we should spend less time telling our teachers what to do and more time listening to what they think. After all, our teachers, the people who spend every day with our kids, know a lot about students. Certainly, it is worth taking a hard look at our schools and asking, can we do a better job of giving teachers an authentic voice in their own learning?
This week I’m giving a post-dinner talk in Niagara Falls, Canada. I’m never too sure about how such a thing can be done, but as I prepared the presentation, I asked myself, what would I want after teaching all day, driving to a conference, and having a nice dinner? Aside from a short talk, I thought, I suppose I wouldn’t mind watching some videos and talking with my friends.
So that is what I decided to do. The presentation summarizes six ideas about learning, both personal and professional, illustrated by some of my favorite video clips and quotations. I’ve included the clips, ideas, and quotations here.
1. Learning that dehumanizes carries the seeds of its own failure.
This clip, for me, captures a simple idea, that life should be fun, joyous, playful and human. Margaret Wheatley says it beautifully:
There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what’s possible. Being willing to learn and be surprised.
The learning we experience and the learning we provide should celebrate that humanity.
2. Learning involves partnership.
This conversation, for me, illustrates that no matter how different our level of expertise or status, we can still engage in respectful, partnership conversations.
When we do learning to each other, using what Paulo Freire refers to as banking education, we decrease humanity. An alternative is to learn with people in partnership, that is, to design learning that recognizes each adult or child’s need for autonomy. Peter Block, whose work really introduced me to the idea of partnership, writes about it this way:
Partners each have a right to say no. Saying no is the fundamental way we have of differentiating ourselves. To take away my right to say no is to claim sovereignty over me. For me to believe that I cannot say no is to yield sovereignty.
3. Learning occurs in a culture.
Learning in any system — a classroom, a school, a school system — occurs in a culture. Therefore, one of the true challenges for a leader (a teacher, principal, superintendent, whomever) is to shape culture. Edgar Schein, who literally wrote the book on organizational culture and leadership, puts it this way:
The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.
4. Coaching accelerates learning.
For more than a decade we’ve been learning how coaching can help people improve practice. When coaches help teachers set goals, work as partners with colleagues, demonstrate what Michael Fullan refers to as impressive empathy, they provide a very important service for their colleagues. Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article is the best writing I’ve seen describing the challenges and potential of coaching.
5. Learning involves striving for personal bests, striving to do things we couldn’t do before.
What I notice about this clip is how profoundly empowering it is for Cooper in this clip to do something he couldn’t do before. There are at least two ways to understand learning. One way is to assume that people need to be motivated by leaders, and therefore learning requires extrinsic rewards and punishments if people are going to move them forward.
An alternative is to assume that people actually want to do good work; people need to be trying to improve, to be striving for personal bests, to feel they are living a fulfilling life. One of my favorite authors, George Sheehan, puts it this way:
My end is not simple happiness. My need, drive, and desire is to achieve my full and complete self. If I do what I have come to do, if I create the life I was made for, then happiness will follow.
6. Learning involves moral purpose.
One thing, I believe, that characterizes Mr. Rogers is that he clearly did what he did because he cared about other people more than himself. For professionals, for educators, focusing on something bigger than ourselves is very important. Michael Fullan, who’s written several books about moral purpose and moral imperative, put it this way:
Moral purpose, defined as making a difference in the lives of students, is a critical motivator for addressing the sustained task of complex reform. Passion and higher order purpose are required because the effort needed is gargantuan and must be morally worth doing.
I love all these quotations and clips, and like so many things, I see them through my perspectives. I hope you see them from your perspectives, and that you benefit from watching them too. I’d love to know what other clips and quotations you think truly illustrate key ideas about professional and student learning.
What clips and quotations inspire, encourage, and educate you?
The people who will save our schools are not the policy makers, the educational researchers, the textbook developers, the consultants, or anyone else who works outside of a school. Our schools will be saved by the teachers, principals, superintendents, and other educators who live to learn. This new group, people I call radical learners, is emerging in schools all across the world. They are people who are driven by learning, people who get up in the morning fired up to try something new, to make a difference, to teach and learn.
Radical learners are everywhere. Often alone, they stand up for kids in board meetings, the principal’s office, and the staff lounge, but mostly they stand up for kids in their own classrooms. They are creating PLNs, grabbing good ideas off of Twitter, writing, reading, and sharing good blogs, reading new thinkers like Godin, Gladwell, and Pink, and old thinkers like Friere, Dewey, and Mason. Radical learners are loving people who will not let schools let kids down. They work the system to make it better, and kinder, more loving, more equitable, more challenging, and more supportive. They work hard because they know how much learning matters.
Who are the radical learners?
believe we are here on earth to learn, so they are turned on by every chance they get to discover something new
use technology to learn, to teach, or lead (and because it’s cool)
have hope because they know that to teach without hope is to damage but to teach with hope can save the world
love the members of their PLN
have mentors and coaches
mentor and coach others
are witnesses to the good
are brutally honest about what is really happening in their classroom and welcome any visitor who could help them improve
don’t blame others but accept personal responsibility for whatever task they take on
infect everybody with their love of learning; most important, the children they teach