Last week, I indicated that the education world continues to present many challenges: “Our students are not the same students we had before 2020. They are displaying more frequent challenging behaviors. Despite this, we have educators at FMCSD (and everywhere!) who are working incredibly hard to meet the needs of our students.” As I continue to reflect on this, I find myself returning to a question I have asked before: If we have a vision for the culture of an organization we are affiliated with, what are we doing to contribute to that vision?
In other words, we can’t always control what happens, but we can always choose how we react to it. When the inevitable challenges arise, how are we responding? And is it OK to respond with anger and frustration?
I’m a big proponent of feeling the feels. We have every right to our feelings. The question is, how long do we want to sit with feelings of anger, frustration, negativity, fear, anxiety? I’m not suggesting that we ignore or push those feelings aside. I am suggesting that we sit with them, recognize them, and make the decision to work our way out of them.
In an effort to build a positive culture in an organization, I believe with every ounce of my being that it begins with every single individual involved in the organization. Does leadership play a significant role? Absolutely. But they do not bear sole responsibility. When we catch ourselves blaming those in positions of authority, can we pause to ask ourselves some questions: 1) Is this blame reasonable? 2) Do I have access to all of the information that those in leadership have? (Is it possible that there is confidential information that I am not privy to?) 3) What would I do to change things if I held that position? and
more most importantly: 4) What am I doing in the position that I currently hold to change/contribute to the culture I desire? 5) What am I doing to empower others to do the same?
I am all for questioning everything. We absolutely should. My follow-up question to questioning everything is: 1) Are we questioning to understand, or are we questioning to blame? Ignore? Deny? Those in leadership hold a high degree of accountability, as they should. So. Do. All. Of. Us.
That accountability piece rattles me to my core as an instructional coach. You see, I feel wholly accountable for our students’ reading performance. Margaret Goldberg, phenomenal human, literacy advocate, and cofounder of the Right to Read Project, said the following in Amplify’s Science of Reading podcast (Season 6, Episode 1): “Well, for me as a literacy coach, I always think it’s the student data that determines how effective I’ve been as a coach. So I can build strong relationships with the teachers and the admin at my school. I can love the interactions I’m having with people. I can be really excited about the PD I’m doing and the learning I am doing. All of that stuff matters. And when it actually comes down to the efficacy of my coaching, it’s if our reading scores go up.” This was in response to host Susan Lambert‘s question, “So when you hear the phrase, ‘It’s all about the students’ what does that mean to you and to your work?”
You see why this might rattle me to my core? I have some major accountability to the reading outcomes in our school district. I am THE literacy instructional coach in the Fort Madison Community School District. I do not bear sole responsibility for our literacy outcomes, but I play a major role. And I do recognize and embrace that I can’t do it alone. The question is: what am I doing to truly change the trajectory? Are all of those positive relationships I continue to strive to build enough? Do I have a clear vision for the direction we are heading? Am I building efficacy among our teachers and teacher teams since none of us can do it alone? And the really tough one, as Margaret Goldberg pointed out: can I provide evidence that my work is improving reading scores in our district?
I can continue to build my own knowledge around the Science of Reading. I can continue to work hard to build relationships with teachers. I can continue to work hard to engage in coaching cycles. I can continue to work hard to get into classrooms and practice what I preach. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Can I provide evidence that my work is improving reading scores in our district?
And this is where I could fall into the trap of blaming others: our kids are coming to us rougher than ever; our families don’t support the school and our mission; our teachers are holding on to ineffective instructional practices; our administrators don’t understand the day-to-day challenges that our teachers face. Although there are pockets of truth in each of the preceding claims, I get to choose how I respond. Do I focus on these pockets of truth, or do I ensure that I am part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem? Do I have clarity around a clear mission and vision for my work? Can I end each day by responding with a resounding, “Yes!” to the following question: Have I contributed to a positive culture in our organization consistently today?
As this marvelous Thanksgiving break comes to an end, these are the questions I am wrestling with. I know what I want the answers to be, and I know that it can be extremely difficult to get to the answers I want. I am grateful for this space to work out my internal struggles, and to be in a better place to jump back in and do the work