Stop Flame Throwing and Start Collaborating: Encouraging All Educators to Empathize


What is your why? Why are you an educator? If I could take a wild guess I will assume your answer deals directly with wanting to help kids and believing in a positive future. Over the last two years I have interviewed hundreds of teachers, administrators, and policy makers. I wanted to get to the bottom of some of our discord in schools. I asked many questions about challenges and successes. My favorite question I asked is: What is your why? Guess what every single one of participants responses was…. the kids. Students were at the core of each why. No matter what their role in education was, everyone answered that question basically with the same answer.

If we are all on the same mission, why do we have so much flame throwing in the field? Teachers blame problems in the classroom on lack of support from administration. Administration blames lack of autonomy on policy makers. Policy makers blame lack of academic growth on teachers and administrators not following processes. The truth is we all want to do what is best for kids. We are on the same team. We need to spend less energy blaming each other and take more time collaborating and understanding that our mission is the same! The trick is having a little bit of empathy for each stakeholder.

It is time all educators decide to unite and ignite. And when I use the word educator I am using it in the sense of all involved in education (e.g. board members, teachers, policy makers, administrators). Uniting and igniting means all investors understand all educators have good intentions at heart and are truly student centered. We all want success. We want what is best for the kids. So…how do we do that?

Step 1: We must believe we are all on the same team.

Step 2: We must trust each other.

Blame and shame needs to go. The best way we can work together is through collaboration and empathy. Part of trusting each other is believing that teachers are capable and professional enough to make decisions that are best for their students along with understanding that decisions policy makers or administration are making also have the students’ interest at the center of their choices. Instead of assuming the worst of each other we need to start trusting that we are all on the same team. These are the keys to success. Below are some of the warning signs that you may be throwing flames instead of igniting collaboration.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE YOU ARE THROWING FLAMES INSTEAD OF IGNITING COLLABORATION

  • When a change is suggested, you immediately turn on your defense mode and blame your administrator or policy maker.

  • You constantly speak negatively about your district and leadership.

  • You seek out others to complain to but never address an issue you have with leadership.

  • You are angry or concerned about things that directly affect your classroom/students but never take positive action to rectify your concerns.

HOW TO EXTINGUSIH THE FLAMES

  • Start from a place of empathy. Empathy is understanding someone else’s feelings or views. Remember that we are all on the same team and need to start acting like it.

  • If there is a policy, you don’t agree with or fully understand ask for clarification in a nonaggressive way. Again, come from a place of collaboration instead of immediately reaching out in attack mode. Put down your pitchfork and put on your listening ears.

  • Be an advocate for your classroom, yourself and your students. Be prepared to back your advocacy with data and research. Data is often the love language of policy makers. If you can showcase that the proof is in the pudding, administrators and leadership members will more likely be willing to listen and consider your point.

  • Invite others in. Ask your administrators/policymakers to visit your classroom to see what is happening and have a better understanding of how they can best support you and your students. That is a huge part of what their job is.

  • Ask to shadow a leadership member. Just like you want them to better understand your role in education, you may want to understand more of what their job entails too. It may be different than you think.

The key for collaboration is remembering our why. We are on the same team. Collaborating and emphasizing does not mean you get what you want 100 percent of the time when you approach administration or leadership. It means that you feel heard, respected and valued. If you have concerns and honestly try to collaborate and empathize with leadership but receive no response…you may want to consider you are working in the wrong building or district. Be honest with yourself first before you make a big decision like leaving. Did you really try to connect and collaborate? Were you empathetic?

You deserve to be heard, Teacher. Make sure you are hearing others too. To get churchy on you… “We are many parts. We are all one body. The gifts we have. We are given to share.” Go share your gift. Ignite and light. We are one team. Start collaborating and empathizing. If the kids are truly our why in education, then being empathetic with each other is the place where we need to start to serve our students.

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