How do we get out of this mindset?


Take faculty meetings as an example. We learn quickly to dislike them largely because we’re forced to attend and because principals run them. So, we rebel and undermine by feigning attention, correcting papers, and carrying on side conversations; once I even fell asleep. We joke about how cleverly we can subvert meetings and roll our eyes to show our disgust. We view meetings as belonging to administrators, who may begrudge them as much as we do. In some schools, some of us insist on leaving at the precise moment the contract determines, even if the meeting is not finished.

I wonder how much better faculty meetings would be if we took initiative to establish a collegial relationship with the administration. What would happen if we worked with the principal to make the meetings meaningful? Instead of sitting through endless announcements and “administrivia,” we could help to design workshops to improve instruction. Imagine the effect of four hours per a month—thirty-six hours per year—of professional learning. Had we had such workshops in my forty years in the classroom, I would have had nearly fifteen hundred hours of collaborative professional learning—and my colleagues and I would have become a more collegial and competent faculty.

We find false solace in complaining about matters such as restrictive schedules, single-letter grading systems, duties, angry parents, uninformed school boards, state mandates, and unmotivated students. Our complaints often become excuses. We lay blame as if we have had no part in creating these problems. We point fingers, but instead we should recognize our complicity in establishing scheduling, grading and reporting systems, and rigid contracts, as we’re instrumental in creating the cultures of our schools. It is one matter to complain about what is not working, but it is another to take responsibility for making changes for the better.

We complain, too, about colleagues who do not pull their weight, when we ourselves may be lacking. We allow peers to perpetuate old ways, such as when we stand by at meetings as they put down new teachers’ initiatives and voice sharp criticism like, “We do not do this around here,” or “We’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work.” We feel uncomfortable challenging such comments from colleagues—our friends—so we sit back. We allow the “culture of nice” to prevail, as it assures us a place in the social structure of the school.

What will you do to break out of the “culture of nice”?

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 12 “Abandon the Crabs in the Cage” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: