04 April 2010

On Tall Poppies and Revelations

photo: poppylove...#4 SquaRED
This post is a response to "No Teacher Left Behind A Guest Post" at The Educational Mac.

This sounds like Tall Poppy Syndrome at work in education. I first heard this concept eloquently explained by a 16-year-old exchange student from New Zealand. She explained that where she was from, it was not okay for one person to stand out regardless of how accomplished they are. It was not socially acceptable to discuss your accomplishments or anything else that might set you apart from the crowd. Some of this could be attributed to typical teen behavior and the need to fit in, but after lengthy discussion I could see there was much more to it.

I think the attitude described in "No Teacher Left Behind" is more common than we tend to think. Though I am generally supported by my site administration, the district level folks seem to find me to be an annoyance because I want to integrate technology into my classroom and my students' lives. There are subtle and not-so-subtle messages that we get about the importance of professional development and making meaningful change in our classrooms.

About 15 years ago I contacted my district's Director of Curriculum and Instruction. I told him that as part of my agreement for extensive training with the our state's Geographic Alliance, I was available to give workshops, free of charge, to teachers. Teachers would receive materials and lessons aligned to our curriculum documents of the time. I asked if I would be able to use a room at our staff development center. His response (and I still remember EXACTLY where I was) "well, sure, but we'd have to charge you for the space, so you might want to try to work with your principal on that." I was dumbfounded. Really? CHARGE me to provide free professional development aligned to our curriculum? He went on. "So you're interested in this geography stuff, huh? (he used the phrase 'geography stuff')We have to send somebody to this standards workshop with the county. Would you be interested?"

This turned into a great opportunity for me to work with teachers from all over my county, but other workshops continue to be an issue. I have led professional development sessions for the district over the past 15 years, but the topics have been mostly district generated, not teacher generated. Just recently I got an enthusiastic response to a workshop idea from our current Director, so maybe things are improving.

I also invest a lot of my own time and money into professional development. I have to. My district has provided zero content-based professional development for social studies teachers (aside from Dog and Pony shows for our textbook adoptions) for nearly 10 years. Conferences and workshops during the school day are at my own expense.

To sum up something of a rant above, I feel like I was asked to stop learning and sharing years ago. To some extent I thought I had just resigned myself to that existence. Until I had a revelation.

In 2008 I was nominated for a Teaching Excellence Award, and shortly thereafter, the District's Teacher of the Year Award. For both nominations, I had to fill out forms describing my teaching experience and professional growth. As I was filling out the forms I was stunned to discover that ALL of my examples were directly related to activities and learning that occurred OUTSIDE of my regular teaching duties.  As I read and reread what I had written and tried to think of other examples that might be more district-oriented, I realized that my primary identification as an educator is NOT with my district nor is it with my school. Years ago, without even realizing it, I switched my primary identification to the groups I work with that actively support new ideas and high quality professional development.

At first, I felt a bit adrift, but then I realized that what kept me growing as an educator was being in a field of already tall poppies and I was trying to grow professionally to be tall with them. Honestly, I do find this a bit disconcerting; somehow I believe that I should be able to grow more with the people I see every day more than those that I see less frequently or those that I've never even met in person.

Today, I actively pursue feedback from those who are already where I want to be. It might be technology integration or it could be curriculum development. Whatever it is, I MUST continue to learn and grow. Overall, I am happier because of it.

I will continue to learn from those individuals and groups who have so influenced my development as a teacher.

I will continue to implement appropriate technology integration and teaching methods in my classroom.

I will NOT let what seems to be a desire for mediocracy get me down.