Written by Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson
NORTH FORK – I got into the education business because I really like teaching. A lot. There is absolutely nothing like seeing a light come on in the eyes of a child, when you help them connect what they already understand to some new piece of information that you have shared with them or helped them to discover!
It is an amazing event that, once experienced, is something you want to see happen again. For me, it has been the same with kindergarteners and graduate students. They are both terrific to be around, and they both light up when learning new things.
Moreover, being with students provides a constant opportunity for joy, laughter, renewal, and a profound sense of purpose. If you have a job where the bulk of your day is spent around kids or young adults, and you are not laughing every day, often to the point where your stomach hurts and you are fighting back tears, then I would say you aren’t paying close enough attention to what is happening with the students around you. There is some top quality, grade-A humor emerging from the mouths and actions of kids all around us each and every day, and it is a tremendous privilege to be a small part of that.
Ideally, I hope that you are finding joy every day in your workplace, and the thought of going to work daily is never a constant burden. If you work for me in Chawanakee Unified, I particularly pray that is true. One of the major factors that makes 50% of teachers quit in their first five years is having a lousy boss, particularly one who does not provide regular, supportive communication. I own that. I hope that things are going decently in Chawanakee, from a culture standpoint. At any rate, I am sure you likely have an opinion of the health of the culture in which you work.
I believe the singular most preventable aspect of work dissatisfaction however, is when we talk snidely about one another and pass negative judgments on those with whom we work. I get it. Our jobs are very complex. We deal with the entire range of human emotions. And in small towns such as ours, in particular, we are in every aspect of one another’s business. It can be exceedingly uncomfortable at times. And things are by no means perfect in our educational system, either.
Education as we currently know it is in a massive cultural shift; from common core, to local control funding formula, to online standardized assessment, we are in a tremendous period of upheaval and change. But my point in this: I believe in you and what you are trying to accomplish every day. I know that you have our kids best interests at heart. And I know that you would never intentionally make things difficult for others as they try to help our kids too. I trust your intent.
So why do we waste time in venting about colleagues? Whom does it help? Our kids certainly don’t benefit. And colleagues who are forced to listen to the whining, particularly if they don’t share the same opinion, have their creative and productive work energy siphoned away. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying don’t raise legitimate issues of concern if they can be prevented or improved with productive discussion. What I am saying though, is: let’s agree not to whine and complain about situations with people that aren’t even within our sphere of influence. Positivity is catching. Sadly, negativity spreads just as readily.
In my role, I expect to be the recipient of negative public opinion. When one makes decisions as a leader, sometimes people don’t like it, and complaints result. That is par for the administrative course, and I suppose if everybody liked everything I was doing, I would be doing very little to forward the cause of kids. But negativity need not be visited upon everyone. Trust the intent. Assume the best. We have a chance to do amazing things if we can come together and support one another. In Chawanakee, the need to “have each others back” is our next major hurdle in unifying ourselves into a true TK-Adult School District. Staff, parents, and kids alike, we all need to begin flexing this muscle. We need to learn to focus on our own business, when appropriate, and be slower to point out the faults of our colleagues.
Our kids are incredibly resilient — when negative things occur, they generally bounce right back, eager to continue to learn and grow. We could benefit from that example. Let’s try assuming the positive, trusting one another’s intent, and see where it might lead. Change starts with you (and me)!
Read an article Bob recommends on “Why Teachers Quit,” in The Atlantic here.