As I was re-reading, “Take the LEAP; Ignite a Culture of Innovation” by Elisabeth Bostwick (published by Impress Books), this passage stuck out to me and was one that left me feeling uncomfortable as I know it happens far too often:
Matthew and his building principal were close as colleagues, and they shared a similar philosophy of education. The more Matthew’s career blossomed, however, the more strained their relationship became. From Matthew’s perspective, it seemed that his principal resented his achievements. His principal never once celebrated his accomplishments in a staff meeting, let alone an email or newsletter. Instead, his demeanor toward Matthew was cavalier, and he would even strike Matthew with snarky remarks at unexpected times. Matthew began to feel that his vast efforts were unappreciated, and it hurt. As a result, Matthew, who cared deeply about his school community and about pushing the boundaries to cultivate innovative practices, began to pull back from his relationship with his principal. As a teacher leader, he knew that if the roles were reversed, he would want to celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues.
In work I do today, I have many educators confide in me that this is something that they have experienced themselves. It often holds them back from trying new things in the classroom or even moving toward new positions. Fears of going into school administration due to comments of going over to “the dark side” are portrayed in jest yet have some underlying resentment in the sentiment from colleagues.
I can’t pretend I have never felt the sting of professional jealousy. Wondering why someone else receives opportunities where I think I would excel is something that I think is natural to the point of being merely human nature. Feeling that is different than acting upon it. My goal from my work is to do my best to lift others in my interactions and focus that if I continue to work hard and do things for the right reason, opportunities will happen and I can genuinely be happy for the success of others.
Bostwick encourages others to personally reflect if they are a fountain or drain for others when they achieve personal and professional success:
I challenge administrators and teachers alike to reflect upon how others’ successes make you feel. Do you celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues or feel threatened by their growth?
The reason I appreciate this sentiment is that education is a space where our work is to lift our students to become better versions of themselves, both in and out of school. If we are to create the mission that Elizabeth shares below, we need to both push and support one another:
My mission became fostering a community where students genuinely enjoy learning and recognize that they’re capable of anything that they put their minds to with practice and support from their teachers. Shaking up traditional learning experiences by creating empowering, authentic, and meaningful opportunities felt like a vital part of that mission. From my study in psychology, I understood that teachers have the potential to turn lives around. We can be the difference makers in the lives of children—the influencers who offer positive contributions to the development of their story—and my vision became ensuring that every child had as many positive experiences as possible.
If we are to create these “empowering, authentic, and meaningful opportunities” as Bostwick suggests, we need to constantly ask how do we bring out the best in one another, in pursuit of serving all of our students. When I feel that sting of jealousy in myself about a colleague, I try to catch myself and ask, “How would I celebrate the accomplishments of this person if they were my current or former student?” It is a grounding sentiment for myself.
Tom Murray, who writes the foreword in “Take the LEAP” talks about the urgency of creating these cultures of innovation in our school and how it falls on all of us, not just admin:
Simply put, in a toxic school environment, innovation will not thrive. In a culture where teachers are not able to take risks, they will retreat to areas of comfort; and, honestly, who can blame them? So who’s responsible for creating such a culture of innovation in your school?
What I love about Elizabeth’s book is the focus on practical ways we can create these cultures from her experience as a teacher-leader while appreciating the different viewpoints within a school and how they are a strength, not a weakness if we utilize them effectively:
While some of us avidly advance as innovators, striving to motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action. Our schools benefit from both types of personalities: We need to think critically about what we’re working toward, and we also want to move forward at a steady pace, creating deeply meaningful learning experiences.
The book and Elizabeth have helped me refocus on the importance of building a culture of innovation and seeing the success and difference of others as something to help our communities move forward.
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