High School Educators: Ego vs Open Culture?

As George Couros writes in his blog series on “Leading Innovative Change”,  a growing, improving school needs to ’embrace an open culture’.  He writes:

 Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.

At our high school, one of our school goals has been to learn and grow by visiting the classrooms of our colleagues. This goal is a ‘left over’ from our AISI project; a goal that we felt was too significant to abandon. The concept is simple in theory: encourage teachers to spend some time in the classrooms of their colleagues–10 minutes, 30 minutes, a full class period.  The underlying principle is that we all have much to learn from each other, even if we don’t teach similar subject areas: maybe a classroom management technique, a review procedure, a technology tip, or a way of interacting with a challenging student.  Nevertheless, in a high school environment, this is a very radical idea for many!

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time 'opening the door'?

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time ‘opening the door’?

Simple in theory. Just before the Christmas break, our staff completed a short survey to help leaders determine our progress in learning and growing from each other.  Teachers who had made even short visits to the classrooms of their colleagues overwhelmingly responded that it was time well spent–that they came away with a new perspective at the very least.  Unfortunately, even though the school year is almost half over, more than a third of our teachers had not yet responded to our school initiative of visiting a colleague’s classroom.  Some responded that they had intended to, but just hadn’t found the time; a few however, felt that it would be a waste of time… that there was nothing to learn as no one else taught exactly what they did.

So, the million dollar question: how do we continue to create and foster a culture where learning from others is seen as both valuable and important?  How do we model this culture of learning from others for our students?

George Courous continues in his blog: ” If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.”

Helping students learn, and of course increasing the ever elusive student ‘engagement’, are at the heart of our school goal.  I hardly read a research paper or a book on leadership that does not cite learning from and with each other as essential to school growth.  As such, I’m continually reassured that our modest plan of having colleagues visit the spaces of their peers is an important and worthwhile goal in fostering an open, learning culture.

When asked about creating synergistic positive energy in a school, Michael Fullan suggests that negative or punitive pressure is not the answer, but that:

 “no pressure seems problematic as well given the existential power of inertia.”  http://www.michaelfullan.ca/media/13514675730.pdf

So our question for the new year….How do we encourage the resistors, whether they be resisting intentionally or not, to join in a culture of learning from one another?

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