Are policies having a negative impact on students and their literacy rates, graduation rates, and college readiness? Is tenure and seniority the problem? Is it the high concentration of poverty that plagues some of our communities? Do we lack rigor? Are our standards high enough? Do we attract the best and the brightest to education? Which party really supports education: Democrats or Republicans?
The gifts and talents that educators bring into the classroom, coupled with their personal passion to change lives of students one lesson at a time, can sometimes be overshadowed when we hear the divisive debates and opinions about public education. How do we avoid the chatter and keep the focus on our students and their growth? How do you stay positive when public conversation can make you feel worthless? How do we keep our reasons for becoming an educator front and center?
Because the weight of educating students is on our shoulders, many educators head to their corner of the world, do what they can, and chose to face the battle on their own. When it comes to students, you are their guide, mentor, and foundation builder and this is their one shot – their only K-12 student experience. The importance of that one shot is massive.
When we fall into the trap of handling things individually, we lose sight of our power in numbers and our strength as a community. We lose the value of coming together as educators with diverse perspectives and practices that can solve problems. When we work unified, we can discover, energize, and make happen all that we want for our students.
While October is Connected Educator Month, teachers should think about how they can feel connected, empowered, and focused on their students every month. Here are three ways to get started:
Join an active Professional Learning Community (PLC) or find groups, committees, or a social networking community to focus on the issues that initially brought you to education. Thousands of teachers around the country are doing amazing work and are interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences. Keep an open mind that the idea and approach of someone else may be the solution needed.
Go beyond your profession. Nourish your soul and broaden your instructional capacity by making positive connections outside the education community. Create room for activities that energize you and offer growth. Make a commitment to yourself to do things that keep you centered and positive — then keep it.
Keep moving forward. Dial back divisive emotion to make way for constructive and courageous conversations. Stay focused on moving towards a goal instead of being stuck in the past or even the present. Step out of what has always been done, leap out of old habits and patterns, and collectively carve out new actions to move the most people forward. After all, that’s what we ask our students to do every day.
At the end of the day, know that you have a choice: add to the mudslinging or live by the words of the great teacher Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
Kevin J. Bennett is the current principal of The FAIR School, an award-winning magnet school with campuses in downtown Minneapolis and suburban Crystal, Minnesota. He was honored as MetLife/NASSP’s Minnesota Middle School Principal of the Year in January of 2012. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KB4kids.