The past few years have taken a toll on educators. We were well on our way toward the current state of exhaustion and impossibility we are currently experiencing prior to the pandemic, but I'm sure Covid sped things up exponentially. The public education system has placed its workers in a reactive firefighting mode that allows none of us to get on the "right side" of the problems. The best analogy (and a little comic relief) I have for the situation is described in the video above.
An educational leader I once worked with gave me the most memorable response of my career when I called him with what I perceived to be a problem. He answered by saying, "Thats not a problem, that's an opportunity" and continued to guide me through some possible action steps for this new opportunity.
I spent my next ten years seeing "problems" through that same proactive lens until it became impossible and until I realized that many of the current systems in place in education are there as reactionary approaches on purpose. And the systems in place that were originally meant to be proactive are used in reactive ways now because the training, time, and ability to follow through with fidelity make it impossible to maintain proactivity.
How can we possibly see these current problems as opportunities when the system doesn't allow for us to think creatively or have the resources needed to effectively address them?
What would the world of education be like if we were able to be proactive? Think about it...
Until the system can change, educational leaders (including those beyond site-based administrators) need to make a concerted effort toward ensuring that schools are able to implement a more proactive culture despite the problems. So until then, let's talk about these opportunities for creating a proactive culture...
A teacher's work environment becomes a child's learning environment.
Wouldn't we want to make the environment better for everyone involved!?
After working as an elementary school principal for nearly 7 years and with 17 years in the field of education, I recently stepped away.
When I began pursuing my doctorate in 2018, I was often asked to answer the question, "What do you plan to do with the degree once finished?" My answer was never very clear. Because honestly, I didn't really see myself doing anything but what I was currently doing. I loved my job. I was passionate, 'all in,' creative, innovative, excited, the list goes on...
Sadly, that changed fast. In March of 2020, we were sprung into a model of education and learning none of us were prepared for followed by going on 3 years of pure educational chaos. The challenges we faced weren't necessarily new challenges, but they were exasperated by the after effects of the pandemic. And we all tried (and continue to try) to get it right for the students that we showed up for to begin with.
A job I once loved turned into my primary source of anxiety. Instead of realizing that we were not prepared for the reality we faced and joining forces to see what creative solutions we could come up with together, I was left to feel alone filling out Google forms to answer questions like "What do you plan to do about...." when everyone knew there was nothing that could actually be done about most of the challenges other than place more pressures on the teachers that were showing up and doing what needed to be done.
The current challenges in education related to human resource needs, pressures placed on personnel, accountability, lack of parent and family involvement, mental health (and the discipline effects of lack of mental health support for students), professional boundary setting, work/life balance (to name a few) make it impossible to proactively make positive change. Every hour of every day brings more situations that require reactive approaches with the inability (due to lack of time, resources, training, etc...) to consistently be proactive, which is necessary in this work.
Despite these challenges, I still attempted to make it my daily goal to ensure teachers and staff could spend their time teaching, show them appreciation, and ensure that the climate and culture of the school were positive and conducive to learning. Unfortunately, the efforts of few are drops in the bucket compared to the indifference of many. I experienced a culture that places continuous unattainable expectations upon us and assumes that we will continue to do whatever it takes at a detriment to our personal and mental health, leaving it extremely challenging to be any kind of a leader.
In August of 2022, I spent 3 days in a local mental health facility after experiencing suicidal ideations that can be connected to nothing other than the pressures (and honestly the impossibility) of the work. After attempting therapy, medication, coping mechanisms, setting boundaries, and many other honest attempts at getting better for the sake of a job that isn't going to get better for any of us anytime soon, I chose to walk away.
I left with nothing set in stone for my future.
I left knowing that as the breadwinner of my family, this could be a detrimental decision, but so could dying.
I took a leap of faith.
I decided to be courageous in the face of adversity.
I put myself and my family first.
And as I set out on a new journey, there are a few things I'm passionate about bringing to public schools in an effort to contribute to much-needed changes within a very broken system. It is imperative that we begin to adopt policies and practices that...