“We influence others-even when we don’t realize it. We know that in theory, but when we see the evidence years later, it helps us to know that we’ve done the right thing and that we’e given ourselves to the right purposes.” – Salome Thomes-El, The Immortality of Influence
This weekend I took the time to have conversations with many teachers and students that I have worked with. The subject of our conversation was “influence” because I was very interested in their thoughts on what led to change or disrupted the idea.
Reflection is critical to growth and I wanted to learn from what I did and either continue or decline those actions. Below are the ideas that formulated from these conversations.
“Be the change that you want to see.”
1. Be the Influence in Your Classroom.
You must have the buy-in from your students…period. Challenge them, show them that you care and make learning a daily adventure. I found that I didn’t need to “assign” homework anymore when I realized that my students were exploring further on their own. It took many years to get to that point but you can’t influence any other student or teacher if you can’t influence your own. If you want to see change in your school, start in your own classroom.
2. Eliminate the Walls and Doors
One great thing that happened was the move to breaking down the barriers that existed between myself and my peers when I transitioned to high school. It was tough going in to a situation where my ideas for learning were radically different. At the same time, it was tough for them to teach near my room when my classes appeared to be more fun. Kids did not want to leave my room and their students wanted to join in. I tried very hard to cordially invite other teachers into our learning space-even taking our learning space to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was huge in terms of building relationships and spreading a climate of change. By being open about what we were doing, other teachers felt compelled to take baby steps and all steps, regardless of size, matter.
3. Encourage Other Ideas Whether You Agree or Not
This was something that I struggled with at first. I remember going into planning and one teacher wrote an activity that we now both agree was hideous. My mistake was that I shot her down the minute that she said it. Don’t do that. What I should’ve done is encouraged her idea and collaboratively helped to refine it. She would’ve loved me doing that. I had no idea that my opinion carried so much weight with her and she was mortified by my actions. I will never do that again. I will always listen, offer suggestions when asked and encourage the effort. What I learned from this is that when you are different in a good way, others look up to what you do even when you don’t know it. We must encourage acts of change because change isn’t easy…even when we do not agree. That is why we have collaboration and reflection.
4. Be Supportive, NOT Competitive
The goals of all teachers must be to positively influence the learning of all students and of the entire school. If I cared only for the success of my students and never considered others, I would have been doing it all wrong. Thankfully that was NOT the case. I made a point to share all lessons, model them and collaboratively refine them with other teachers. If needed, we even combined classes so that a level of comfort could be built for teachers before “going it alone”. There is no room to focus on who has higher scores or performance. We must focus on what is best for ALL kids and support each other in getting there.
5. Let Your Students Do the Talking
Share everything! Display your student work in the hall. Post it on a class blog/website and share the links to your entire dept. Encourage students to share their online work with their other teachers. Often what keeps teachers from trying new ideas is their fear that kids can’t do it. Show them that they can and more importantly let your students do it through their work! What happens is that others see the work and are more willing to try. Some teachers need to see evidence of student impact before taking the leap of change. Your classroom is an excellent platform for it.
6. Build Relationships and Not Bragging Rights
You can’t influence anyone without buy-in and it starts with building relationships. Learn who the teachers are that you work with. To you, their ideas may be antiquated but those ideas often come from years of understanding what works in their classrooms. You have to respect that. You aren’t there to change them. You are there to guide the growth of the students to which you were assigned. Caring for your school is what is driving you to help others make small changes. Understand that fully! Learning does not occur on any level without a relationship.
These are the ideas that culminated over a weekend of conversations. I believe that the most important thought is the first one…be the influence in your classroom.
Others will soon follow.