By Jason McKenna
In a riveting TED Talk given only months before her death, educational pioneer Rita Pierson delivered an inconvenient truth: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Her talk, titled, “Every Kid Needs a Champion” urged educators to consider human connection between teacher and student as responsible for facilitating lasting changes in student behavior and learning outcomes. In understanding each other deeply, a different level of commitment and motivation emerged from the student – and the teacher.
The comment that inspired Pierson’s infamous retort about likability was one she received from a colleague, stating, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” That sentiment points to an issue all its own – Is it possible for teachers to not only be creative and innovative, but also provide deep, inspiring mentorship to their students; to be a champion, when they don’t like going to work?
The optimistic educator in me wonders if the negativity inherent in such a comment from Pierson’s colleagues is more a product of a jadedness we can avoid than a real dislike for students. If you don’t like kids, you really shouldn’t be an educator, but if teachers exist in a work culture that breeds that kind of resentment, it’s an immediate problem we must be willing to intelligently confront.
As I began to dive deeper into management strategies and their history, I realized most of the strategies I’d been operating under within the school system – namely, command and control – were completely outdated.
I won’t rhapsodize about the incredible experiential benefits of EdTech – where I first began learning about Agile cultures from authors like Roman Pichler – nor will I suggest these environments are easily created within the inertia that many schools find themselves in. What I will say is that so many of the structures that govern conduct in the public school setting end up creating more than a few unintended consequences that, were glaringly obvious to me when I departed from operating under those constraints.
Upon entering my second career, my tendency towards micromanagement was painfully acknowledged. I wanted a hand in all the tasks of my team, at all times – an approach that, now having worked under the Agile mindset for several years – seems pretty pedestrian.
Luckily I confronted my management habits under a mentor I not only respected, but within a mentorship that valued a reciprocity of respect. He didn’t tell me to change my approach, instead he allowed me to come to that conclusion on my own and was there to provide feedback and guidance when I was working towards a solution.
I adapted to my new environment, opening myself to the new structures and culture of the Agile world. Yet even as I assimilated and embraced the Agile, I found myself still wondering, where had I internalized micromanagement as a strategy, and how had I not recognized it as ultimately a manifestation of mistrust?
As I began to dive deeper into management strategies and their history, I realized most of the strategies I’d been operating under within the school system – namely, command and control – were completely outdated. It really clicked for me one afternoon, as I recalled that infamous “teachers’ bell” – the ringing of a bell 15 minutes after the students were dismissed to notify teachers they too, were now free to go.
We simultaneously ask teachers to stand up and be champions for their students, while indirectly letting them know they aren’t trusted enough to not need a dismissal by bell.
Teachers are not only tasked with creating meaningful connections that will inspire their students for years to come, we also ask them to prepare students to compete in an increasingly complex, 21st century knowledge economy, all while working in schools that still employ 19th century management attitudes and principles.
Ultimately, Pierson’s asking teachers to be mentors and role models, to teach in a way they’re proud of. To honor her lofty goal, how best can we address the organizational structures that ultimately drive work culture in the school system?
A good first step would be to not tell and then direct teachers how to implement the answer.
Author Bio: Jason McKenna is the Director of Educational Strategy at Robomatter, Inc. Follow them on Twitter: @McKennaJ72