Deep Breaths

Photo by Brian Harrison

Aspirations are the building blocks of life; literally and metaphorically- each breath we take sustains us and allows us to accomplish all that we do- the mundane and the glorious. It was the very meaning of this word that caught my eye as I skimmed the Twittersphere in early July and came across the report Teaching the Way We Aspire to Teach, a joint endeavor of the CEA and CTF. My attention was fixed on the word aspire because it is a word that is not currently used much our public education context, and it makes me wonder if that is one reason why we seem to be a little stuck these days.

When I began my teaching career 20 years ago I had a fully formed set of aspirations of the teacher I wanted to be; informed by the experiences I had working alongside a lifetime’s worth of teachers-as well as the many media role models I encountered, ranging from Mr. Kotter to Robin Williams in the Dead Poet’s Society. In spite of a career that has spanned a plethora of social, political, pedagogical and technological changes, I hold these aspirations close and measure my work against these self-generated criteria, even now in my role as a school principal.
It is as a principal that I poured through the report, with a critical eye. We have navigated some tricky terrain over the past 20 years and made some significant gains in learning outcomes for students, especially those children whose needs are most pressing. My concern was that this report would in some way undermine this progress. No need to worry- it turns out that, based upon this research, classroom teachers want what we all want:
  • the time to apply their craft in a creative and engaging matter
  • the trust that, given time and resources, they will make decisions that are student-focused
  • the opportunity to work together to develop, define and refine their professional practice
It’s important that those of us who lead and care about public schools to listen to the voices of our teachers and engage in a conversation that supports them to work towards their aspirations.  Richard Elmore recently commented that, “…you have to know your own interests before you can pretend to represent someone else’s interests.”  I take that to mean that no one voice should prevail when we discuss our schools- whether we are a parent, policy maker, politician, principal, teacher or student.  In the school I lead, I’m committed to having this conversation and am grateful to the CEA and CTF for creating this report as I believe that the aspirations of our teachers, students and families are critical to the next level of work we will need to engage in together. We’ll pour through the report together and spend some time talking about it.
Like the word ‘aspire’ our public schools are paradoxical too; they both mirror and sustain our democracy in mundane and glorious ways. It is our teachers who shape and define the lives that our children will lead and we must heed their voices; just as we must heed the voices of those who populate, fund and direct our schools, it’s a messy, but necessary, reality.
This reflection has been cross-posted on the Canadian Education Association blog.
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