What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

August 17, 2012 at 8:31 AM Leave a comment

NCLB has a presumption-of-guilt clause that allows dismissal of up to 50% of the teaching staff without due process in persistently failing schools. Across the US, teachers are walking around with targets on their backs and many are undermining themselves in response. Genuine concerns about being tossed from the group, losing one’s job, and forfeiting pension potential are driving conformity among teachers and stifling their natural creativity. Teachers may be turning their worst fears into self-fulfilling prophecies as their schools fail to show improvement. It’s time for counter-intuitive leadership.

Sometimes it helps to face one’s worst fears. Let’s say it happens…most of the staff is laid off at the end of the year. How can teachers get ready for the job market after an epic failure and turn that into success? Ironically, this is a case in which readiness might be a good dose of preventive medicine.

In any school under NCLB sanctions, every teacher would benefit from a glimpse into the world of out-placement. He or she should draft a resume, envision the next job, and write their own best letter of recommendation for securing that position. The next step would be to reflect on these three components of career planning. Is the resume a composite for a model practice? Is that next job a realistic expectation? Does that letter of recommendation ring true? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, it’s time to develop a game plan for personal growth.

Leaders in this situation must have faith in their staff’s resilience and use honesty as a tool of benevolence. By recognizing each person as an individual and becoming an advocate against that worst fear, the leader becomes a partner for success. In addition, difficult conversations happen while there is still time for action. Supervision is directed toward facilitation of each teacher’s transformation into that exemplary job candidate.

Of course, the goal behind this exercise is to activate a vision of excellence for each teacher and create a spirit of renewal for him or her in the classroom. However, the school leader takes the intermediate step of listening to the staff, allowing them to mourn the loss of stability, and bolstering their confidence for taking personal risks to succeed. Ultimately, that self-centered reflection should turn the teacher away from inner fears and toward to a more student-centered practice.

I believe in portable pensions and career mobility for teachers, but they are not the reality today. All the same, teachers need to be liberated from their sense of impossibilities in their classrooms, in their schools, and in their careers. Often it is what is getting in the way of their visions for greatness in their students.

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Entry filed under: ESEA-NCLB, School Leadership, Teacher Effectiveness.

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