I often wonder why more teachers don’t try to create these types of opportunities or environments…
Mark Sonnemann
11

You make a crucial point that most administrators miss. Students and teachers both respond to the same dynamics. What works for one will work for the other.

Let’s put ourselves into the mind of a teacher. I’ve been practicing my craft for many years now, and am very good at it. I have a deep understanding of students and learning, and am widely respected in the community. You are asking me to experiment with new ideas and approaches. Doing that means acknowledging I might not know as much as I think. It also means I may have been doing it “wrong” for all these years—not helping my students as much as I thought.

Our egos are very fragile. These aren’t things I can readily admit. I might play around with some new ideas, but I have to believe that any improvements are strictly minor and incremental—what I’ve been doing all these years has been good enough. There are no transformational changes.

As a school leader, if you want me to experiment in a meaningful way, then you need to convince me that transformational change is both possible and within my grasp. I need to see compelling, firsthand evidence. Now, you are probably thinking: “How do I show you evidence until we have a school culture that supports sustained experimentation? We can’t predict what will work until we experiment, and chances are, we won’t figure out what works right away. We will try and fail many times before succeeding.”

And there’s the rub. Before you can convince your school to go on a long and perilous journey, you need to prove that the destination is worth the risk. I will risk my ego as a teacher if you convince me that transformational change is out there, and we will be able to reach it together. I will take that risk because, ultimately, I will do anything for my students if it is important enough.

How are you doing that as a school leader? How are we as teachers doing that for our students? As a teacher and a school leader, it was my first priority to give my students and teachers an immediate powerful experience—something to convince them it made sense to let go of old core beliefs and take a chance on some new thinking.

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