Rocking The Boat
I have this thing about pocket change. It comes from the days of pay phones and parking meters. I always have a quarter and a dime in my pocket. Practically useless in modern times. Still I hold on to my small change, because old habits die hard. I hold on to small change in my teaching practices as well. New things excite me. I always want to share them with my colleagues. It’s funny how they react….”I can’t do that with my students!”, “That seems very complicated.” “How do you find the time for all of that?”. Even close friends like to shut you down when you suggest ways that might be more engaging, or creative for students. Oh well, I have a thick skin, and won’t be silenced that easily.
The book, “Rocking The Boat”, describes how organizations can be moved through small changes. Using small wins to move the organization in a more favorable direction. The measure of success is in the transformation achieved. One way this can be done is by being “different”. Different is good, when it brings down barriers, or moves an organization in a different, and more user friendly direction.
The author manages to move from the individual, to the organization while suggesting ways to improve the relationship between the two, and to the greater community as well. This relation to managers is discussed as well.
What is most telling about this book, is the fact I would recommend it to others. I think it helps in two ways. You can come to the realization that being different at work is good, and you can identify ways to work toward change in your organization. In my case school.
How am I different?
In the book, the three ways to be different are:
- Different social identities from the majority, which sets them apart from the mainstream(sort of a self-imposed exile)
- Those who have different social identities, but are not excluded
- Those who have philosophical differences which cause conflict with the prevailing current in their organizations.
Having kids made me very aware of all the things I would not do if I were a teacher. With three boys, I learned very well what not to do in a classroom. Of course as an armchair quarterback this was easy to do. Then, a turn of luck allowed me to go back to school. I was accepted in a cohort that put me in a classroom in just a few months. Suddenly I was the kind of teacher many teachers hate. New and full of crazy ideas.
What the author missed, and what I have in spades is a classic view of the world. I have keen sense of how things work, the minutia, the small details, that weave their way through education. If education was a library, I would be its encyclopedia.
Becoming a Tempered Radical
How a tempered radical makes a difference is spelled out in the book. This ranges from resisting quietly and staying true to one’s “self”, all the way to organizing collective action. In between are turning personal threats into opportunities, Broadening impact through negotiation, and my favorite, leveraging small wins. I’m good at leveraging small wins. I go to school every day with an agenda. I am usually very early, and get right to work. Being a successful teacher involves quite a bit of work. This coupled with the fact that I am always searching for ways to do things better, keeps me busy. When I am confidant I am doing something better, I start bugging my colleagues to try it out. Often I get lucky with this, because the students are selling my ideas to the other teachers. So as I said earlier, I go to school every day with an agenda. That agenda is to teach my students skills and content that will improve their opportunities for success. I don’t get held up in day-to-day conflicts, and I do my job. I’m lucky that I get to teach the same thing five times in a day. Of course each time it’s different in delivery, but essentially the same content. What is important to me is not so much what I am teaching, but how I am teaching. I’m feeling good with myself, so my goal moving forward is be good with others. I see the transformation in both my students, and in me. I want others at work to feel what I do. To make this happen, I need to spend more time out of my comfort zone. In the past, a quick put down would shut me up. There are many who seem to relish in shutting another teacher up. Now I don’t care. I have a comeback for every excuse, and offer to help all and any teacher who needs me. After all, teaching is what I’m best at.
Ambivalence, being co-opted, damage to reputation, and facing burnout. The dangers of flying too close to the sun. Of all of these, my one real fear is burning out. I am sensitive to how people perceive me. I’m rarely ambivalent(ask anyone who has questioned my practices). I’m not much for negotiation, so really burning out is the thing. I actually came close once. After a difficult school year, involving a strike and loss of many teachers I loved, I was ready to give up. School was no longer a happy place for me. Even worse, my administrator refused to let me leave. In the end this was lucky for me. I realized exactly how much power I had and used this to my advantage. Coming back from a near flame-out was not easy. I was alone, without friends at school, and a prisoner of my own success.
I decided I would make that year more successful than any previous year. Because I am driven by my own need for success, the year flew by and I was indeed successful. By then, I was ready and able to move on without administrative permission, and I did. Of course I got over the burn-out thing, but I had a new school culture to join and it wasn’t easy.
I joined my new school, and found I lost my reputation, I was no longer the go-to guy, I was the “new kid on the block”. Suddenly my opinion wasn’t valued. It was a crushing experience. At times I thought about going back to my old school, as toxic as it was. Fortunately time heals all wounds. I stopped dwelling on my losses(mourning as it were), and moved forward.
Now, I’m back on my feet again, and fighting to move my students forward. The students are on my side, and I’m beginning to win over a few teachers. I am lucky to work with some really great people, and given time I know they will be my friends. This makes them easy to talk to, and gives me opportunities to make suggestions about little changes that will make their job better.