I remember this game, well. A group of children stood on one end of an area, and the "mother" stood at the other. The children in the group needed to ask permission: "Mother may I...?" to move forward. The "mother" had the authority to accept or deny the request.
Fast forward...a whole lot of years, and this game, this phrase has reared it's head. I was co-moderator in a Twitter Chat about innovation, tonight. One of the questions posed was: What barriers stand in the way of creating an innovative culture? One person replied that it was fear, needing permission. At that second, I was brought back to that game; where your moving forward, your future, was dependent on getting permission.
Apparently, this is not something new, in education. Many teachers and administrators have been so used to having to be "compliant" that it is scary to think of deviating. I did not realize this was happening, until I left the classroom. I am currently a TOSA (teacher on special assignment). I AM a teacher, that happens to work in the District Office. This position has led to some interesting interactions.
Earlier this year, a teacher was talking to me about how she was struggling because she was using the textbook for Social Studies and how invalid it and the assessments were.
I simply asked "Then why are you using them?".
She looked at me, eyes wide and said "Because I have to.".
Hmmm...My next question was "What are you and your students gaining from them?".
Her answer "Nothing.".
So I asked again "Why are you using them?".
She stared at me and then said "Are you giving me permission to not use the textbook and assessments?"
Then I stared at her wide eyed. What? Permission? From ME? My response "You don't need my permission to do anything. What would be best for kids?".
She replied "Projects."
My answer: "Then do projects."
This went back and forth. There were questions about assessing, grades, standards, cross curricular activities...at the end, with a huge smile on her face she said: "So, you are telling me, that I am allowed to do fun things with my students?"
"I am not telling you anything...I am encouraging you, you know what is best for your students...why not enjoy the process?" (Mind you, I have NO authority...none...this could've bitten me in the behind).
I left that conversation, perplexed...but throughout the year, I started noticing; how often people were looking for permission to do things that they knew were right. I have since had MANY conversations like this. I have also had such conversations with my supervisors and they get it...this does make it easier.
Maybe I was just lucky that my former principals were not "traditionalists" and encouraged and supported outside of the box teaching and learning. They instilled in me the importance of "meeting people where they are". It was like "triage", we did what ever it took to meet those students and move them forward.
I don't know how to break this idea of having to get permission. I know there are rules, I know that there is a "chain of command", but as teachers, we also have academic freedom. I know this goes WAY beyond me.
So, I just try to encourage people to take risks. By that, I don't mean, jumping in blindly. Have a purpose, a goal in mind. Have the standards in mind, the soft skills in mind. Above all else...have YOUR students, in mind. Research, think through and then go for it. If it fails, don't give it up...reflect, correct and try again. One of the best things I learned from my former principals was "It's easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission." and I now add "Who can argue with: " It's what's best for kids?"
I know it is scary. I know it is hard. But the best part is, none of them are in it alone. No more isolation, no hiding the secret sauce. I feel that people are realizing that we are better together. And together, there is power to make change. So please don't hold yourself back because you are waiting for permission...it may never come and the innovation may be lost. I am ending with a Tweet I sent out earlier today, the picture is a quote from the book: Kids Deserve It . Let's wiggle...
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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