Internship Coordinator Sheri Barsottelli and Monica Wrobel, Studio Fellow and Intern
When I stand in front of a group of teachers and advocate for change, I tend to connect with those in the crowd who speak my language. When I coach inside of schools, I tend to learn a great deal from those who are eager to accomplish the same. When I facilitate Studio sessions, I find myself in the company of those I consider my colleagues…my friends….the people I’d love to share a school or a classroom with.
It’s easy to facilitate change in these contexts. These are the people who inspire me, and I’m energized by our work together.
But that’s not MOST of what I’m doing each day. Most of what I’m doing each day is provoking conversation and thought that leaves people feeling mildly to moderately uncomfortable. On rare occasions, the needle might even dip toward the extreme discomfort range. Learning is about tolerating those feelings, and over the years, I’ve realized that making people uncomfortable is something I have to be willing to do if I’m going to be of service to anyone. I know that grappling with dissonance is an important part of professional growth. I also know that it takes time to make meaningful use of what we learn from it all. It requires safe spaces and mutual trust as well.
Everyone seems to have an agenda these days. Maybe it’s always been this way. Here’s what I know: these agendas tend to conflict with one another and throw us off-task. They prevent us from trusting one another. They get in the way of our own learning and our work to serve kids.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this over the last few years. In fact, much of my quieter professional learning has attended to my curiosities about these dynamics, which I perceive at play on an almost daily basis. I’ve been reflecting–hard and often—on where my efforts to make a difference for kids might be best placed, given the reality described above. And here’s what I’m learning:
Change begins with kids, and when I start there, adult agendas are less likely to tangle up the learning process and slow down the work. It’s been my experiences with kids that have enlightened me here, too.
Case in point?
I invest a lot of energy in helping teachers assess and improve the way they provide feedback to learners. Some teachers appreciate the strategies that I suggest. Some are willing to investigate their own solutions and design high quality approaches that work for them. Some are finding that feedback is critical to improving performance. And others? Well, they remain skeptics.
I could spend a lifetime banging my head against that particular wall, I know. And because I’m a consultant? Well, it’s likely that I lack credibility with those who don’t know me well enough to trust me. There are a lot of bad consultants out there who have agendas that are a lot different than mine, after all. They do a bit of damage sometimes. I get this. I respect that, in fact. I was a teacher for a long time myself, and I have the pd scars to prove it. I know from experience that consultants often find themselves preaching to the choir, and while this can make us feel good, deep down we know that this isn’t the best use of anyone’s energy or time.
We all want to engage and influence the skeptics.
A few years ago, I began realizing that this might require a completely different approach. So, I began working with the students who learn from the skeptics. I founded the WNY Young Writers’ Studio. I invited some talented teachers to help me help kids assess their own needs. We began coaching them in promising practices. We helped them to help themselves and one another. Then, we began encouraging them to advocate for themselves by speaking with their teachers in respectful ways and sharing the practices and strategies that serve them best as learners. I’ve done the same inside of some of the schools that I coach in as well.
Though we’ve only just begun–Studio is four years old this spring–our preliminary findings been pretty promising. In fact, we haven’t met a skeptic yet who hasn’t been willing to respond to student requests for shifts in practice.
How is this changing my thinking and my work as a consultant and coach? I’ve learned that when kids know how to voice their needs and speak to what works best for them, it seems that their teachers typically listen….even those who are less likely to engage with consultants or change in response to what is learned during their work with them.
So, it should come as no surprise that I want to make this happen more often. Over the next year, I’ll be blogging about some different pilot programs that I’m facilitating that will, with any luck, enable exactly that. I’m excited to slowly begin investing more of my energy in helping kids advocate for themselves and act as change agents within the systems they come from. I believe in these kids. I think that most teachers do too. It’s time to learn from them. It’s time to empower them to lead us where we need to go.
You can help the kids that you know do the same.
Over the next week, I’ll be sharing some of what I’m learning about advocacy, inquiry, and empowering kids to ask for what they need and lead change. I have a lot of ideas and many more questions.
Is this work that you do? Is it something that you’re interested in connecting with me and other teachers around? Hope you’ll reach out by leaving a comment or dropping an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to learning what I can, doing better and better work,and making new friends along the way!