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Sunday, September 25, 2016

A bit of a rant and a bit of a plea.

I am afraid this post is gonna sound preachy.

That is not the intent. Not at all.

It is a bit of a rant and a bit of a plea.

For those already with me, it is a celebration of everything we try to be.

But I do feel strongly that we have more power than we know.

I hear a lot of teachers use this saying:

"Just close your door and teach."

While I understand the sentiment, I just can't agree.

Isolation isn't a viable answer.

It doesn't build community.

It doesn't change minds.

It doesn't genuinely empower teachers or students.

When we do amazing things, it leaks past the walls of our rooms...

and raises eyebrows, rather than high fives.

On the other hand, it can be liberating.

It is a justifiable response to the irrational, illogical and often damaging mandates imposed on teachers, usually by politicians.

I understand the sentiment.

From time to time, I have been guilty of the practice.

All teachers want to do what is best for their students.

I want to do what is best for my students.

Sometimes it feels like a closed door is the only way to stay true to that goal.

As time has passed, I have changed my mindset.

I still want to do what is best for students.

And I want the world to see me doing it.

So instead of "just close your door and teach," I argue we should do the opposite:

"Open your door and just teach."

This sounds scary.

It is scary.

It is a risk.

In the worst kind of restrictive environments, with the worst kind of narrow-minded, restrictive, and even vindictive leaders, it is probably a bad a idea.

But an open door has the power to do all those things a closed door can't:

cause connections, change minds, empower teachers and students.

The beautiful thing about it (in my experience) is this:

The more I claim I don't know what I'm doing,

The more I express uncertainty,

The more I ask for support or observation or materials...

The more the people in charge see me as capable, knowledgeable, competent,

Sometimes to the point of frustration.

Instead of providing the support I am seeking, they see my willingness to ask as validation that I actually don't need anything, even when I do.

Wait, what?

There must be some complicated psychological underpinnings I just don't get.

It is a remarkable phenomenon.

Why does saying "I don't know, it is all a grand experiment" bring smiles and freedom?

Why can I get away with so much more when I announce to anyone who will listen what I am trying?

I think the answer is simple...and sad.

Leaders tend to have very little faith that teachers can be confident, independent, risk takers.

That teachers are in fact professionals with a lot to give and nothing to hide.

That we can be trusted to act in the best interests of our students and our schools.

That we are professionals who need to be led, not managed.

That we are problem solvers, not trouble makers.

That we can question the status quo without doubting our leaders.

That we can, as George Couros would say, "innovate inside the box."

So when I start acting like a confident risk taker, well, I must be exceptional, right?

I must be trying something worthwhile.

Enough confidence to admit I have no idea what I am doing seems to lead to a peculiar place:

A place where willingness to admit and embrace uncertainty equals competence.

When I answer every question before it is asked (even if I answer it with more questions of my own), I stymie the naysayers, second guessers, and but what iffers.

The act of opening my door is, in and of itself, radical.

It is an act of subterfuge, defiance, and strength.

It is also an invitation.

Open doors open minds.

It won't always work.

It may even backfire.

But think about the teachers you know who seem to get away with doing pretty much whatever they want.

Are they hiding or flaunting?

Are they hoping not to get caught or standing up for their students?

Do they treat the walls of their classrooms as if they are invisible?

Do they treat their students as if they are invincible?

Ultimately, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our profession, and our students to be the best we can be.

What I find most telling?

Most wonderfully indicative that we are doing the right things?

Parents respond in the same way as administrators.

So this is a bit of a rant and a bit of a plea:

Open your door and just teach with me.

If we "get away" with it, it is a good thing.

If it takes our individual institutions one tiny step towards open-mindedness, towards innovation, then it is an amazing thing.


  1. Thoroughly enjoyable, oxymorons and all! I'll open mine.

  2. Thanks! I have been thinking about this for a while and couldn't find a context. Finally decided I didn't care, I wanted to write it anyway. :)


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