The escalating problems facing our nation’s schools have taken their toll on educators. Many educators feel devalued, under supported, and frustrated over the factors that get in the way of doing what we were hired to do. The political minefield of mandated policies and procedures have censured original thinking and creative innovation, while media pundits insist that schools are failing and cannot be repaired. Educators cannot allow the public nor ourselves to believe that we are victims in a hopeless situation.
We must own our part in healing a system that is rapidly heading off course. It is possible to acknowledge there are problems while remaining hopeful and confident we can make things better. We can be visionaries who work together to fix the fixable and mitigate the unfixable.
It is time for us to be more honest with ourselves and with each other. Taking ownership of our profession means that we stop excusing, stop blaming, and start taking responsibility. We need to continue to make decisions based on what is best for our students and behave with an integrity that is grounded in a shared community value system. We avoid assigning blame because doing so subverts personal growth and does not help.
Misplaced pride is the primary reason people do not take responsibility. We are too proud to admit we made a mistake or even that we are part of the problem. Taking full responsibility means not allocating different percentages of, “Whose fault is this?” but rather admitting, “This is something I’m a part of, and I am 100% committed to take care of everything I can on my end.” We concentrate on what we can improve and leave off assigning culpability.
We educators need to step up and take responsibility for not only our own classrooms but for every student in our schools. We should be willing to offer guidance to novice colleagues, work with teachers who are struggling, and learn from teachers more accomplished than we.
When speaking with policymakers, parents, and other interested parties, we should employ the practice of giving them the benefit of the doubt. We have to remember that listening is not losing, it is paving the way to a more reasoned conversation. We cannot further our purposes by further alienating those who don’t understand who we are and what we do.
In short, we need to work on changing both our negative inner dialogues as well as our public conversations to focus on our purpose, hope, choices, resilience, courage, grace, and success.
To advance not only the public perception of our profession but also improve our teaching and our school cultures, we teachers need to hold each other accountable. Teachers can do a better job of “policing our own ranks.” We often know better than anyone when a colleague is behaving unethically, incompetently, or with disregard for the best interests of students. It is time for leaders to promote and maintain a shared value system among all adults at school and provide teachers time to observe each other, give each other critically compassionate feedback, and regularly discuss how to foster a community of professionals who bring out the best in each other as well as our students.
Steps for Choosing Responsibility
(adapted from Deliberate Optimism: Still Reclaiming the Joy in Education, Silver & Berckemeyer, 2023)
- We prioritize ourselves. It is imperative that we as educators develop a sense of self-worth about our abilities and pride in what we have accomplished so far. We need to believe that we are capable, worthy individuals and act that way. It is our responsibility to hone our skills, our bodies, and our minds so that we indeed bring our best selves to the classroom every day. We work with our leaders to create an environment that supports reasonable expectations for the adults who work there.
- We take the time for self-reflection. Self-reflecting is not easy, but it is imperative that we pause and look deeply into our motives, our reactions, and our goals. Questions we need to ask ourselves are the following:
- What is my goal here? What am I trying to achieve?
- What is my true motivation? Am I acting out of fear or hurt or anger instead of an intent to do the right thing?
- Am I making this more about me than the cause I’m supposedly promoting?
- Am I really giving this purpose my total focused attention and energy?
- Am I listening to others with the intent to understand?
- We avoid excuses. A common way to shirk responsibility is to find an array of excuses or rationalizations. We may say we want to be more student-centered but then decide there’s just not enough time. The truth is we make the time for things we truly value. There are always countless reasons for not doing the hard things, but we cannot allow them to deter us from pursuing our goals.
- We stand up to detractors. We cannot afford to let our profession be dismantled by naysayers, doubters, and complainers. Too often, positive momentum is derailed by loud, self-serving, and sometimes powerful people. We cannot uplift our profession by allowing others to promote fabrications and to denigrate our work. We need to respond to them with calm, assertive, well-thought out, truthful responses.
- We stop being our own worst enemies. We refrain from having detrimental conversations about our classrooms, our schools, our districts, and other educators in public. We must maintain a realistic optimism about our profession. Yes, there are problems, and there are many of us doing our best to solve them. Educators represent our schools and our profession everywhere we go. People listen to what we say because they assume we know “the truth.” We must stand together, support one another, and make every effort to speak positively about education. Our collective optimism can be contagious.
In short, we need to work on changing both our negative inner dialogues as well as our public conversations to focus on our purpose, hope, choices, resilience, courage, grace, and success. Changing the narrative will not be easy nor happen quickly, but who is more capable of doing this than our nation’s teachers and leaders?