Thursday, October 18, 2012

A request for SUPPORT . . .

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I received an e-mail today from Scott Mitchell, a regular reader of my blog who happens to be President of the Tahoma Education Association. In it, he shared with Nancy and me information on a theme that is emerging in conversations he is having with elementary teachers across the district.  It is an issue that has been with us over time, but is taking on added urgency with the common core focus.

I wanted to get your thoughts and reflections on a topic that seems to be coming up more and more when I am in the buildings talking to teachers.  The number one stress that is on teachers in our elementary schools is how do we get everything done that we are being asked to do.  We do not just teach our 3-4 subjects and then we are done, there are many other initiatives that also need to get done and it is impossible to do it all.      

I am appreciative of the tone of the e-mail and Scott’s being comfortable to send it.  I believe that it is an indicator of the capacity we have developed for reflective conversations and the relationship that is a result of this capacity.  Scott is advocating for his members in a way that resonates for me and will result in a positive response to his request.    

So, what am I asking?  I am requesting an audit of what is expected of teachers at each of the grade levels.  If I was a new teacher, I should be able to be handed all of the curriculum that I need to do for the whole year and know what is expected. . . Teachers want to do everything they are being asked but right now the expectation is unrealistic.  

What concerns me about this e-mail is the fact that Scott felt compelled to share it.  This is not a new issue in our system; it is one that we have struggled with over time.  At our last two elementary principal meetings we discussed the issue in relation to our common core work.  Over time, we have had one deep review of a single grade level and other conversations that have not resulted in providing the requested information across the system.  For a system that prides itself on balancing high demand with high support this would be one place where our current reality does not match our stated belief.

Why has it been so difficult over time to bring closure to the need for this guidance?  Could it be partly due to changing standards and the continual need to rewrite curriculum?  Could it be partly due to multiple people guiding the work in different content areas?  Could it be . . .  Other questions come to my mind as I am sure that they do to you.  What I have learned over time is that below these questions and below the structures that we have in place are the mental models that are driving our behavior in the central office.  Until we bring those to the surface and identify mental models that result in new structures, we will not bring closure to this request for support.  It must be time for a system tool like the iceberg to assist us in delving deeply below the surface.  I’d be curious as to what my 74 readers think those mental models might be.              

Thanks Scott for driving home for me a current reality that I am not proud of and that has already shifted to creative tension to move the system to finding answers.    

2 comments:

Jordan Barnett said...

Reading this open and thoughtful post I feel compelled to add tho the conversation about the positive relationship between the Tahoma School District and the TEA directly from the words of TEA President Scott Mitchell.

As a Tahoma educator, when I asked Scott to write for a personal project of mine I didn't know what an outstanding perspective I was going to get. To say the least, reading Scott's contribution to my project and now Mr. Maryanski's post made me proud. I consider myself privileged to work for the Tahoma School District and have the TEA be such a wonderful support.

http://www.aneducationprojects.org/featured-writing.html

Thank you,
Jordan Barnett

Jonathan said...

Mike-
I remember sitting with you and my site supervisor and having a similar conversation last year in the office. I felt comfortable bringing an extensive list of curricular requirements to my principal and asking what was mandatory, and you were willing to extend the conversation by joining us from across the parking lot. Though obviously we did not resolve these issues, I felt a trust extended to me to utilize my professional discretion. I believe this is a testament to the collaborative nature of all the stakeholders in our system, which is also a reflection upon your leadership.

I feel the same respect and trust from Nancy, Dawn, Ann and from throughout the district leadership. The latest experience that reinforced this feeling of mutual respect was at our recent district training, expertly facilitated by Nancy. I left feeling empowered and seeing my role as a teammate helping to shift the systems to align with the newest expectations required of us all.

I also concur with Jordan in his assessment and praise of Scott’s leadership style and ability to clearly communicate his beliefs. Thanks for posting that link, Jordan. That was a nice reminder of Scott’s heart and mind.

I believe, in any system, what limits possibilities is its effective capacity. I see Tahoma as a strongly integrated force of highly trained and reflective educators, staff, and leadership with an amazing effective capacity. I witness people; principals, secretaries, food services, classified, human resources, technology specialists, curriculum designers, teachers (and please forgive me those omitted); redefining their job descriptions daily, on the fly, to meet whatever demands are placed before them.

Those are the mental models I see reflected in our district.