65. Transforming Pedagogical Stars into Leaders

In this story I reference Albert Schweitzer’s quotes, especially those related to the importance of imagination. Imagination is the root of creativity because it comes from a variety of sources linked in unexpected ways.

Creativity is acknowledged as being at the top of the learning hierarchy. Above evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding, and knowing.

Maria Montessori was and—through her legacy—continues to be influential. She promoted a different way of engaging young children in productive learning. In its basic form, her model of education is directly related to constructivism. Sometimes referred to as inductive as opposed to deductive learning.

Building learning through our own curiosity and experimentation. Inspired by challenges to meet or opportunities to achieve. Eclipsing rote intellectual development. It is also more fulfilling, especially if it is recognized by others we respect.

Like parents or teachers.

Pedagogical stars in education became that way because of imagination. That imagination was fed by a reality in which they—as students—cognitively role-played the kind of person they wanted to be. Reinforced because it was channeled within a setting they liked.

The classroom.

But the pandemic and other circumstances have modified the setting. And many are distressed by the change. They feel cut off from their cognitive and emotional roots. Burdened with feelings of isolation — even incompetence.

Nevertheless, they are afraid of anyone or anything that suggests they become different. To leave the arena in which they have always felt productive and happy.

Rebecca’s challenge is to help Jackie and others like her become leaders in a different arena.

Jackie Accepts and Expands the Transformation Process

Rebecca asked me to help other teachers who feel frustrated with the current situation. Those of us who accepted and worked with the system before and during the pandemic.

Before accepting any future leadership role, I discussed it with my husband. He understood my concerns and feelings of despondency. He saw it coming every day. He recognized parallels to my situation in the company in which he works.

Working as an account executive in a company is nothing like being a teacher. But there are a few similarities.

My husband, Ben, manages an office of 20 people. Before the pandemic they interacted either in meetings or with each other as they completed various projects.

Like thousands of other companies during the height of the pandemic, Ben’s decided to allow employees to work from home. Some functions required Ben and others to be at the worksite. But for almost two years nearly 90% of the workday was from employees’ homes.

The system worked reasonably well. Employees enjoyed the casual dress and avoidance of city traffic. Baseline productivity increased.

Ben and his superiors were pleased. But the executive ranks felt something important was lost. At first, they could not explain it. But they began to realize creative problem identification and problem solving were diminishing.

Work assignments were being fulfilled. But outside-the-box thinking and acting were rare.  

One vice president had been trained as an industrial psychologist. Her analysis concluded that human beings need to be in proximity with each other to effectively problem solve and create.

I told Ben that my experience with school kids underscored the VP’s conclusions. What applies to adults is accentuated among children. Working with students virtually was discouraging because the medium did not simulate give and take. Reinforcement of learning. Recognition from others. Enjoying the Aha! Moment.

Responses that happened in the onsite classroom on a regular basis. Problem-solving and creating together.

Ben understood my point. “Jackie, you are an excellent teacher. Normally, your students benefit from your knowledge and dedication to their learning. In a classroom setting.

“But in some ways, you are like the high functioning people in our office who enjoy their independence.

“Your outlook was formed from school experiences as individual teachers inspired you to learn. Inspired you to be a teacher just like they were.

“Independently minded folks in my office developed that same kind of demeanor. They protected their precociousness in a subject like math. As students, math came easily to them which made them feel proud and special.

“To them, working with fellow students only slowed them down. Or resulted in other students stealing their answers. Getting good grades not because of their own ability but because they theoretically stole from those who were good at it.

“Such a perspective carries over to the workplace. As a manager I often encounter that unwillingness to work in teams. Even when we’re all together in the office. Virtual meetings only make a bad situation worse. Collaborative brainstorming and discussion that need creative solutions are out of the question.

“I see what Rebecca is trying to do. Unlike Rebecca, the only way I can change the dynamics is to fire and hire. Fire those who will not work in teams. Hire those who can. People I dismiss because of an inability or unwillingness to communicate do not understand my reasoning.

“They believe their performance is wonderful because they are meticulous and computationally exceptional. But they do not know how to work in a team and have shown no interest in doing so.

“Don’t get me wrong. Reclusive accountants with exemplary math skills are not like you. They do not team well because they have unfortunate personality traits.”

Ben smiled. “Your personality traits are wonderful and I love you for them! You are also an intelligent and stimulating teacher with terrific people skills. 

“The problem is the system in which teaming either does not exist or is ineffectual.

“The system accepts the status quo because that is how schools have always been. That is how many politicians and the public view schools and learning.

“Your forward-looking district’s leaders now believe teachers should collaborate in team settings to create and implement curriculum. They believe such teachers will more likely focus on the district’s common intentions for student learning.

“They will also grow professionally through an ongoing review of what does and does not work. And improve instructional programs accordingly.

“Changing the status quo is what your district is attempting to do. And you play a key role. Because you’re a smart and dedicated teacher. Now you’re being asked to leave your professional cocoon and work with others to examine new possibilities.”

I looked at Ben in amazement. How did he become so informed about the way schools do and should work? He had obviously been thinking about the analogy associated with his company.

 “So, Ben, do you think I should participate in leading this project and assisting with staff development?”

“Yes.”

The next day I talked with Rebecca and Barbara. I was ready to assist in making the necessary changes. That included learning more about the new learning infrastructure. Serving as a leader in training other teachers how to write the new curriculum. How to use it in their classrooms to guide instruction and formative assessment.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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