If you’ve ever walked into a break room at lunchtime, you know that all of the educational experts are sitting in that room talking about the problems and solutions of day-to-day classroom life.
And yet, it seems as though the experts are never the people making the decisions! Teachers are constantly frustrated with the fact that administrators, board members, and lawmakers don’t understand what’s happening in the classroom. They don’t know how their rules and laws play out, and they can’t see the flaws. It’s maddening, isn’t it?
And students feel the same way! They complain about schedules, teaching styles, the way information is delivered (or not delivered), and so on.
We can all agree that there is a communication gap, but recognizing it’s existence is usually as far as we get to making any real changes.
With the rise of the pandemic, education has become splintered in all directions. All of the broken pieces of our outdated, broken education system are falling apart while faced with this new crisis. There are so many needs, opinions, complaints, desires for the future, frustrations about decisions being made, lack of understanding of what works and what doesn’t, fear, and determination on all sides.
There are many conversations occurring between teachers, administrators, boards, state education policymakers, and national policymakers.
Talking is good! Talking is GREAT! Conversations need to be had, and the lines of communication have to be open in order to identify and solve issues.
The problem with all this talking, though, is the same problem that’s always plagued education: nearly all the conversations are horizontal rather than vertical.
In other words, students are talking to other students.
Parents are talking to other parents.
Teachers are talking to other teachers.
Administrators are only hearing from and talking to other administrators.
What if we started making as much of an effort to communicate vertically as we do horizontally?
The Problems with Vertical Communication
Teachers feel unheard - that’s the sentiment that is most common, isn’t it? It stands to reason, though, that if you aren’t speaking, you will remain unheard.
But we all know it’s just not that simple, is it? Teachers don’t communicate with their administrators and school boards for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is fear - and with good reason.
No one wants to stand out as The One Who Complains. No one wants to be the squeaky wheel, or step on any toes, or make people uncomfortable. Teachers aren’t paid a whole lot, relatively speaking, but most of us HAVE to work or we won’t survive, especially as budgets are being slashed and everyone is trying so hard to keep their heads down. Heaven forbid you raise your head or your hand and be singled out right now.
It’s a very scary time in education. Some are just a handful of years from retirement and are just trying to toe the line to get there in one piece.
Another issue with vertical communication is that we’ve gone so long not doing it that most teachers don’t even know how. They don’t know how the system works, and they don’t know who to talk to. They don’t know how to present their ideas and recommendations in a way that is both professional and at the same time brief and concise.
Another problem is that teachers are only seeing things from their perspective in the “building”, so to speak - their classroom, their department, or their grade level. Some teachers will complain and expect everyone to line up and do what they’re told (building admin, board members, and superintendents alike), regardless of the fact that the solution they are proposing only takes their classroom, department, and so on into account. They won’t take no for an answer and will call a lawyer if anyone so much as sneezes in their direction.
Other teachers are so worried about being the bossy teacher or seen as a trouble maker that they won’t speak up at all. They are so terrified that they’ll be told no, or fired on the spot, that they won’t dare say a word.
Now that we are faced with a full-on crisis, there is no time to waste on being either of those teachers - either the overly demanding teacher, or the mouse hiding in the corner.
The ship is going down, and the captains and first mates do NOT have all the information. They are sailing blind in the storm.
The crew knows exactly what isn’t working, and often, exactly how to fix it.
You don’t have the luxury of being silent anymore.
So this week, we’re going to outline how YOU, dear teacher, can be the change you see. We’ll talk about how to identify which decision-maker you need to talk to, how to have difficult conversations with administrators, build your resilience when it comes to having your ideas rejected, how to bring topics up with your school board, how to access legal representation if your idea is a state or national issue, and how to influence lawmakers.
The most important idea we want to leave you with today is something we’ve been saying for months and months: YOU are the expert. You and your students are the only people in the world who actually understand what is happening in that classroom, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face.
YOU have to be the one to speak.
If we continue this “every man for himself” business, we may just find ourselves swimming with the fish.
Let’s not abandon ship just yet.