Thursday, July 5, 2018

3 Ways to Inspire Teachers

In my experience, teachers are hungry for inspiration.  They are committed to their work, and they see the value in their work... but it can still be draining.  They want leaders who will refill their bucket.  In my experience, these three strategies can go a long way toward energizing teachers.

Support them.  Over the years, it has become clear to me that support is the number one quality that teachers desire in their administrators.  They want to know that when things get challenging with a student or dicey with a parent, someone has their back.  When teachers feel supported by their administrators, they feel emboldened and empowered.  They become more comfortable taking risks.  When they are confident in their safety net, they can dare to be spectacular.

Remind them.  I believe that every teacher chose this profession because they love kids, and they want to make a difference in their lives.  But there are times for every teacher when the "calling" can seem more like a "job."  Students can be unruly. Parents can be aggravating.  Mandates can be overbearing.  And grading can be overwhelming.  (Not to mention high stakes tests!) These challenges have the potential to steal the joy of teachers.  But they don't have to! It is important for administrators to help teachers keep these challenges in perspective. Good administrators work hard to keep teachers focused on the best interests of students.  They continually remind teachers about the value of their work and about their potential to impact children. And teachers who remain mindful of their ultimate purpose, hold on to the passion that fuels their fire.

Show them. The best administrators don't just talk about the importance of teachers collaborating; they collaborate themselves.  They don't just ask teachers to try new technology without taking any of their own risks.  And they don't just encourage teachers to build relationships with students; they connect with kids too! Few teachers are inspired by administrators who talk a good game but never back it up.  Good leaders don't manage from their office; they lead from the hallway... and in the classroom... and in the cafeteria.  They are engaged, and they are intentional about setting an example.  They are "walking the walk."  These administrators are not simply telling teachers the way; they are modeling the way.  And teachers will find this type of authenticity inspiring.

When teachers are excited about teaching, their students will be more excited about learning.  Good administrators don't hope for positive energy in the school; they bring it, themselves.  They don't wait for their teachers to be inspired; they work to inspire them.  They realize that they can impact the motivation of their teachers. And they make a difference!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Reflections on the Flag, our Heritage, and the Role of Empathy

If you ask someone what the American flag represents, they'll most likely say something like, "liberty and justice for all." They probably would not say something like, "My heritage." ... because that term does not mean much by itself. What is meaningful are the ideals and values of the heritage. And make no mistake about it, we have a complicated heritage. I say this in part, because the values and ideals of that heritage have evolved. (This includes the "Christian heritage," by the way. Anyone who does not think that our understanding of the values and morality of the scriptures has evolved, has not read the Bible closely or has totally forgotten what was in it.) 

I believe that empathy is at the heart of morality. In fact, that is the essence of the Golden Rule. I am glad that our society has grown more empathetic over the centuries. As a country, we eventually decided it was wrong to own people; it was wrong to allow children to work in coal mines for 12 hours a day; it was wrong to deny voting rights to women; and it was wrong to deny an equal education to African Americans. As our empathy increases, our sense of justice becomes more refined. 

I have ancestors who owned slaves. I'm not proud of that part of my heritage. I have ancestors who died fighting for the confederacy. They may have been nice men, but they were on the wrong side of that war. My parents taught me the value of love, kindness, and compassion. I'm very proud of that heritage. My wife's grandfather was a professor at the University of Alabama and was instrumental in recruiting the first African American students to the Engineering Department. I'm stoked about that heritage. We all have a checkered past. I suspect that we all have a heritage that is worthy of honor AND redemption.