“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
For many years, I was an online secondary school teacher. At one point, I was teaching 130 students 8 different courses – and I was writing some of those courses while teaching them. I received hundreds of email messages every day. Day and night were blurred. If I was awake, I was marking or answering email. And how did I end every email?
But I wasn’t taking care at all.
Fast forward five years, and I can barely sit here to write this because I am in so much pain. I have been like this for 7 days, and it is a much needed wake up call. None of my colleagues are surprised. I don’t tell many people, but those hearing the news wonder why it has taken so long for my body to give up on me. Apparently I gave up on it long ago.
Yesterday, a teacher called me at 6 a.m. because she needed to take the day off. She was sick. She had been working sick for two days and she couldn’t do it any more. She apologized profusely for not being able to come in to teach and said she did not want to let the students down. The guilt was obvious. But why? Why is it so hard for teachers to take care of their own health?
I met two more teachers yesterday who are facing significant health issues, yet can’t drag themselves away from the work they do with kids. It is the caring profession, but do we sometimes care too much?
It is very hard to turn it off at the end of the day. I hear many teachers tell me that they would love to spend one year in a 9 to 5 job, so they could see what it is like to have a job that ended when they left it, instead of taking everything home with them and working all evening, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night still planning and problem solving.
It’s hard to draw a line where teaching ends and personal life begins. I see teachers on twitter at all kinds of crazy hours, perfecting lessons, marking one last paper, prepping an event. We work to exhaustion.
But the people who need us won’t have us if we continue to abuse ourselves.
I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday – the poster on the bulletin board of my Grade 13 Physics class.
It was a joke, of course. My physics teacher had – still has – a great sense of humour.
But it makes me ask myself if the students who enter our school each day have just that – hope.
Yesterday was hard. My vice-principal and I mentioned many times that we felt more like social workers than educators. Twice I found that I could not hold back tears. Life is really tough for some of my students.
In comparing education in Brazil and South Africa, the consequences of poverty are discussed at length. This quote is one that many of us in education need to remember: “Poverty disrupts access to education in numerous ways, often affecting the degree to which school is valued or even perceived as viable among a society’s poor”(p. 134).
I had not considered how poverty might affect the number and range of opportunities for students to practice and apply what they learn in school. In addition, the number of personal demands on a student’s time competes directly with their need to be in a formal education setting. When basic resources are lacking, there is less time for the pursuit of education.
The culture may not include the assumption that formal education is the key to success.
There are well-defined links between poor health and poverty, and this contributes to the readiness for learning as well as poor attendance in school, which can lead to gaps in knowledge.
We do our best to meet the physical and emotional needs of our students, with breakfast program, emergency food, and access to counseling.
But the real question for me as the principal is, when students walk into the school, is it a place of hope?
*Please note that due to the personal nature of many of the responses to this post, I am no longer approving further comments. This post has had a large number of visceral responses, which tells me this is not an isolated problem. I hope that everyone reading this will recognize the signs and work to end this practice in schools. I have not been bullied by a principal myself, but I am close to someone who has been, and it is gut-wrenching to see what it can do to a talented and caring educator.
Thanks for reading.
Since International Day of Pink this past week (April 11, 2012), bullying in schools is once again a hot topic. But what if the bullying in the school isn’t among students?
What if the biggest bully in the school is the Principal?
Many people would be surprised to hear that the teachers who spend each day working to prevent bullying among students in schools can themselves be victims of bullying in the workplace.
What does bully leadership look like?
Bully leadership is authoritative. It can be very uncomfortable.
There is the overwhelming feeling of anger. It can mean slamming doors for effect. There can be psychological bullying, like dropping statements that cause stress for a teacher at inappropriate times.
It can mean undermining the efforts of teachers and jeopardizing their success. It can involve threatening and abuse of power.
But do bully leaders consider themselves to be bullies?
Principal bullies often believe strongly that they are very capable leaders, and are unable to distinguish between the qualities of good leadership and bullying.
Often bully leaders believe that they are simply getting everyone on side, focusing on the current initiative. They see success in their actions. Bully leaders get results. And they get attention from senior management. Upper management sees the results, cheers the Bully on, holding up to others the “great results” – something all the other Principals should aspire to.
But that “success” is short-lived. When teacher motivation rests in fear of the Principal, it is not sustainable.
How can Senior Management Recognize the Bully Principal?
It can be very difficult for Superintendents to identify a bully principal. Bully principals don’t show their Jekyll sides outside of their school while they are focused on showcasing and taking credit for their successes.
Trustees, Directors and SO’s want to see success, and it’s easy to be blinded by a bully principal’s charm and confidence. There is no reason to delve deeper into what is going on.
What are the signs that something is not right?
Good teachers are being let go and weak teachers are being brought in. A bully principal needs teachers who can be controlled. Teachers who stand up to them are dangerous. Is there a school where the hiring pattern causes surprise?
Vulnerable teachers are doing extra work. Look deeply into the new projects and ideas. Are they being run by teachers whose position are in danger of termination? Are they being pressured into taking on extra work with their job on the line?
A pattern of attack on an initiative. Is an initiative consistently interrupted or questioned by a Principal? Who is in charge of the initiative? Is this teacher being bullied by the principal?
Is there a principal who is not openly welcomed to collaborate with the others principals? Why is that? Often other principals are fully aware that someone in their midst is a bully – and they steer clear.
How does a Bully Principal affect the organization?
Good people leave. Effective teachers will not stick around in this environment.
Senior management loses credibility when they unknowingly favour and promote the work of bullies.
Future leaders in the building need to take time to re-build trust, which means a longer time before issues of student achievement are addressed. Children don’t have this kind of time to waste.
Desperate bullied teachers may behave unprofessionally out of frustration.
Ontario has legislation that prevents bullying in the workplace, but teachers are reluctant to report when the bully is their boss.
Victims understand the power structure and the preferential treatment their “model Principal” receives from upper management, and they are afraid to complain.
Bully Principals have long-term effects on schools throughout a District. Supervisory Officers need solid training on how to recognize when leadership has gone wrong. Teachers need a safe method of reporting bullying, without fear of retribution.
Do you have more to share on this issue?
Can you suggest solutions or sources of information?
November 2013: Here is an awesome post by Seth Godin on the cost of Bullying in the workplace: Bullying is Theft
“The end to bullying starts with a question: does senior management see the cost? Do they understand that tolerating and excusing bullying behavior is precisely what permits it to flourish?”
For the first time in many years, I arrived home from school yesterday feeling the physical side effects of intense stress. I had pain all through the right side of my body and I could feel the muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders. It took most of last evening to try to relax, to run, to take a bath and then finally get a good night’s sleep to get back to something approaching normal.
That’s because I can relax now. The blue plastic bucket full of the OSSLT tests is safe in the vault, ready to be picked up by the courier this morning to be whisked away to EQAO.
But this isn’t about me. If I felt this much stress, and I am just the Principal overseeing the test, what about my students? It isn’t over for them. They still have to wait several months for their results.
I was comforting students who were in tears before the test even started yesterday. I know there are students who will not pass this test, and it has nothing to do with their ability to read and write.
I have written often on high-stakes testing, but in today’s economic climate when governments are looking at freezing teacher salaries as a way to balance the books, I really have to wonder at what our priorities are.
In my last posting, I stated a few of the findings in the Hole in the Wall experiments. The last was that schools need to include a rational system to know what to believe in.
Tonight I read a post by Ira Socol called “Question Everything” that really helps me with my thinking on this one.
In particular, I love this section that so clearly demonstrates the cycle of memorizers getting good grades and becoming teachers:
The teachers can almost always rattle off what is wrong with this projection, including the innate cultural bias attached – the diminuation of the southern hemisphere (Greenland, 1/14th the size of Africa, appears larger than that continent), the Americentric splitting of Asia, et al – but if I ask why this map is important, where it would be valuable, those same educators often freeze.
They know what they’ve “learned” (memorized) about the Mercator Projection, but as generations of U.S. educators never questioned the map which unrolled over the chalkboard, our educators today fail to question the shortcomings of the new maps.
So whether it is homework or due dates, school bells or school desks, or any of the “facts” we tend to put before students. You, them, we all, should be doubting everything, questioning everything.
That process not only builds a real kind of learning unavailable through memorization, it will create a next generation unwilling to accept the mistakes of the past and present.
“Minimally Invasive Education is defined as a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment to generate an adequate level of motivation to induce learning in groups of children, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher.”
At SIM we watched Dr. Luke speak about the importance of rich content in spite of the level of basic skills. We can engage learners in meaningful “sustained, rich, scaffolded conversations”. “The dumbing down of the curriculum because we believe the students cannot handle complex topics when they have deficiencies in basic skills is insidious.”
While engaging students in important inquiry and rich content, every teacher should be trained to work to enhance reading comprehension in every student, from the phys. ed. teacher to the math teacher. We all have the responsibility to continue to improve literacy skills.
I am a scatterbrain today. I am excited about all the the reading I am doing but I can’t pull it all together at this point.
I am exploring three things right now.
1) We don’t know what we don’t know, so how do we direct our own learning?
This thinking is a product of my frustration over the last year as I have been learning with my elementary school colleagues. I was astounded at how much further ahead they were in their learning than I was, and I was impatient to “catch up” with them, but I couldn’t figure our where to turn! Now that I have developed a more complex schema around learning theory, I am looking for ways to guide my secondary colleagues through this process – of feeling behind and left out but not quite sure how to move forward.
I wonder how often our students feel the same way as we work on gradual release (acceptance?) of responsibility for learning. We need to ensure that we are sufficiently scaffolding their learning as they work on self-direction.
2) Reluctant learners.
Every high school has this issue, but our unique geography and culture can lure us into the trap of giving up or lowering expectations. I don’t think we have worked hard enough on our inquiry into how to reach reluctant learners.
Here is a piece based on Carol Dweck’s work (see yesterday’s posting) about motivation. I would love to hear how you are engaging reluctant learners.
3) Integrating Technology and Creativity into every classroom.
I am exploring this as we make the leap from aging desktop computers in a sign-out lab, to wifi and BYOD. We know we have to go there, but it is a big leap and I need to think about how to prepare teachers. They range from “I would not be caught dead on Facebook” to “Well sure, I could try that” and, “Yes, I already use that app. Do you have another suggestion?”.
How do I prepare teachers in my school to be ready for this huge leap in how we do business? In particular, how do we work with teachers who currently do not use technology at all in their own lives?
“Technology is the driving force behind most of the education innovation. It is impacting not only what we can do as educators, but it is also changing how we approach learning. These innovations may have not all reached the education journals yet, but they have been presented and are being discussed digitally and at great length in social media.
A few of the recent topics include: the Flipped Class, eTextbooks, PBL approaches to learning, blended classes, Edcamps for PD, BYOD, Digital classrooms, Tablets, 1:1 laptops, digital collaboration, Social Media, Mobile Learning Devices, Blogging. Some of these topics have made it to the print media, but all are being delved into at length through social media. It is a disadvantage to be a print-media educator in a digital-media world. I can understand how a majority of educators whose very education was steeped in print media is more comfortable with that medium. The technology however, is not holding still to allow educators to dwell in a comfort zone. Just as the technology of the printing press got us beyond the technology of the scrolls (Parchment & Quill), Technology is now taking us beyond print media to digital publications and boundless collaboration.”
A webinar that I am watching today: Ask Dr. Judy: How to create a learning-receptive emotional state (available on iTunesU through ASCD)