Chapter 22 - Celebrating Small TriumphsThe two women climbers in "First Ascent" manage to celebrate each small tirumph along the way to the peak. Each obstacle overcome is an occasion to whoop it up. So it should be with innovation in schools.
Some schools have a longstanding tradition of celebration, even those with no commitment to innovation. These are important norms to establish if a school is to be a true learning community rather than a loosely associated artists' co-op. All healthy orgaizations have rituals which tie the members more closely together, which bring unity of purpose and a sense of mutual protection to those who would try out difficult and potentially risky new enterprises. Solo climbing promises a higher likelihood of fatality.
Why should we wait until retirement to celebrate the wonders of teaching? Is it really so different from mountain-climbing that we must restrain the whoops of joy when we reach that child hitherto so deeply withdrawn? The traditional isolation of classroom teaching all too often cuts us off from the rewards of fellowship, and in times when the profession is often under attack, we need those rewards and that support more than ever.
How often during a career does a tall young man or woman return to say thank you? It has happened to each of us as we stand by the doorway of our classroom and notice the stranger walking toward us, the face familar but the body all wrong.
"Is that you, Charlie?" And Charlie, who has just finished graduate school in physics beams with pleasure that you still remember after a dozen years.
"It was you who made all the difference in my life, Mrs. Kraus. It was you who gave me my love of science."
Few people in other professions ever experience this kind of deep psychic "pay check." Even great teachers experience it infrequently, but the point of this chapter is the value of counting our blessings, of noticing our miracles and accomplishments, not in a solitary fashion but in a group. Site-based management brings with it risk and challenge. Those groups which form supportive rituals will find the sailing smoother than those who maintain traditions of isolation.
Administrators in one highly performing school district were accustomed to an unrelenting storm of criticism and doubt no matter how well the schools and the students performed. Instead of feeling pride and pleasure, they felt pain and anxiety much of the time. "In this district," they would say, "we are given the doubt of the benefit rather than the benefit of the doubt." If a task was completed to a 99 per cent quality level, dicussion would focus upon the missing one per cent.
School councils can learn to observe the rituals of their school and to propose important changes.
- Do we gather before or after difficult meetings to offer support or encouragement?
- Do we write each other congratulatory notes?
- Do we call on the phone to seek advice and support?
- Do teachers call parents when students perform well or only when they are experiencing difficulty?
- Do parents write notes to teachers thanking them for their many gifts to their children?
- Do principals notice the good things or only the "needs improvement?"
- Do we compliment our colleagues behind their backs?
These are behaviors which will help members of the school community to become stronger and more steadfast mountain climbing teams.
Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.