Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I read a great post today by Aviva Dunsiger on compliance and self-regulation entitled Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I really suggest you read it. Aviva is writing about something we don’t talk enough about – the pressure for adults to conform. Again, this is something we do in education, we are expected to do everything in our power to respect the student’s need to self-regulate and possibly opt out of difficult situations, but on the other hand, we expect nearly blind compliance from the adults in the system. She ends her post with this question:
Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.
At the end of Aviva’s post I added this response:
Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal.
To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.
Aviva is making an excellent point here. To opt out, to question, to take a different path is just as important for the social-emotional health of adults as it is for children. It is dangerous however because it will put you at odds with the vast majority of people who are comfortable with or unwilling to question the status quo.
When we discourage noncompliance and independent thought, what does an organization lose?
To call for strict compliance means that decision making is left in the hands of the few in the highest positions of authority. To question their ultimate authority will lead to sanction. This means that alternative positions are not encouraged by teachers, consultants and especially school administrators.
Consequently, adults in school boards are reduced to ‘cheerleading’ tweets. While there are many educators that go beyond cheerleading, it is seldom that they seriously question the status quo – something that is established by a small group of people whose authority is never questioned.
I have seen this demand for compliance with other large organizations. The Catholic Church and its agencies and large education corporations are two I have had some experience working in. It seems the larger you get the less room there is for thinking outside the box. It makes me wonder how innovative thought and action ever takes place!
When it comes to opting out there are not a lot of options. You simply cannot dissent if you work for a large school board or other big organization. This means that your social-emotional well-being is secondary to the well-being of the organization.
Adults always have the right to opt out, but that comes down to leaving the organization. In my case, speaking critically about my school board meant that I would be suspended without pay. So, I complied.
This was not a good situation, but I did have the option to opt out and I did. I left the organization and I started to write. From a social-emotional perspective, this is a good thing.
It might have been better if independent thought and initiative had been encouraged while I was a school administrator. You really lose something when you demand blind compliance. Opting out is good for adults, it would be even better if we could do this more while remaining members of the organization.

Fashionable Ideas in Education – suiting other’s agendas?

I read an incredible post today on Twitter – not everything you read is equally useful.

Coordinating a session today about growth mindset… “Allowing yourself to learn from others, not on what you want to learn from them but instead on what they have to teach you is demonstrating a growth mindset!” Do we sometimes sabotage our growth because we want to control it?

I responded with this – ‘I think we need to control our own learning. Learning based on someone else’s agenda is what has always happened. Spent too many years listening to what other people thought I should know.’

How do terms like ‘growth mindset’ get subverted to take on meanings that suit other people’s agenda?

Maybe it has always been this way. How many terms in education do you know that have been subverted to take on a more corporate definition?

Here is one of my favourites – PLC – Professional Learning Community. There was a time when you could go to a three-day conference and hear Richard Dufour and others make really interesting presentations on the importance of personalized learning and collaboration. The books they wrote on PLCs were complex and really useful. Setting up a real PLC was a complex process that followed an outline developed by Dufour over years of trial and error as a high school principal.

PLC’s eventually became something that was used to define any meeting that took place with educators present. There became little distinction between Dufour’s carefully laid out process and a coffee klatch.  Superintendents in an effort to remain current and relevant used the term without any apparent understanding of the research behind the PLC. Recently, I heard a teacher complain (rightly) that her principal had taken all their planning time away by insisting that everyone at their school take part in a PLC.

This is not what should happen. The PLC is a great way to personalize teacher learning and encourage collaboration amongst educators. It should not be something that happens everyday everywhere. It should not be a way to show how ‘current’ you are in your instructional leadership practice.

The implementation of ideas and practices needs to be flexible and intuitive. They need to be pursued in an intelligent manner and they can’t be used to fit every situation.

Maybe this is a problem for all education institutions. Too often we all want to jump on the latest bandwagon – whether this is growth mindset, PLCs, social-emotional learning or half a hundred other fashionable ideas out there that suffer from mass adoption with very little critical consideration.

I am only focusing on two here – what would you add to the list?

Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health in the World of Education

There is a stigma attached to posts on mental health. People are afraid to deal with mental health issues. On Twitter, there will be lots of ‘likes’ and maybe a few retweets, but seldom is there anything else.

So I don’t expend much attention will be paid to this post – too bad.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is a big problem especially for principals and superintendents who actually witness many people suffering from mental health issues – teachers, students, parents. They have no training in this area and I think, tend to be less than empathetic. As a principal, I know we seldom discussed these topics and any form of distress was easily seen as a sign of weakness.

As a principal, I had an advantage. I have first-hand experience of the impact mental illness can have on an individual. I also had nine years of experience working as a guidance counsellor before I became an administrator. I easily saw more people in distress as an administrator than I ever saw as a counsellor. At least I knew what these people were going through. Most administrators do not and that is not a good situation.

I witnessed this deficit at all levels of senior administration with one notable exception.

The work being done in the  campaign is really important and I am looking forward to participating in the #Ontedchat twitter chat next Wednesday, January 24th, at 8:30 PM. This would also be a great topic for a Voiced Radio podcast!

I hope other people, the people who are in positions of responsibility listen to this podcast – they really should. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to disappear. The fear needs to disappear. People need to step up and do much more to support those who suffer.

Empathy – We Still Have a Way to Go

 

We are coming up to ‘Bell Let’s Talk‘ on January 31st. This is a day to have an open dialogue on mental health issues in Canada. That’s a very good thing.

Twitter is not always the best forum for discussions on important topics like mental health. I have already seen people ‘like’ tweets about the importance of reaching out if you are someone in distress.

It is so easy to ‘like’. It is much harder to sit there and be present with someone who is really struggling. As someone who has suffered from mental illness in the past, I know people need more than a retweet.

I am happy that this topic is reaching beyond the shadows and getting some publicity. I am seeing people like Chris Nihmey and Laurie Azzi who are doing really important work on social media getting out the message that people need to talk. This is essential and I think their work could actually save lives.

What we need is more people entering this dialogue in a really meaningful way. I remember what it was like to be a struggling educator with serious mental health concerns. I did reach out to people when I was suffering from debilitating anxiety. In all cases, at work at least, my efforts to reach out were rebuffed.

In one case that I have written about before, I told a superintendent that undue stress was a trigger for anxiety. Incredibly, my honest admission was ignored.

Very fortunately for me when I reached out at home, I was understood and loved. That has made all the difference.

I learned a lot from my own mental health struggles and I am better for what I went through. I do however struggle with those in places of authority who are still unable to be empathetic when it comes to the people who work for them.

I have never called out the superintendent that was so insensitive to my own admissions and I won’t do it now. I only hope that they have learned something in the past few years. I hope they have learned a certain degree of empathy.

I am adding a Twitter Moment to this post. It is part of an incredible conversation on Twitter on the need for empathy amongst educators for educators. There are some pretty stark posts included here. I really hope that by writing these tweets, people have found some healing and understanding.

Good that there is a day of awareness. We still have a lot of growing to do.

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Educators and Mental Health: Teaching on a Global Stage

I have been reading and rereading posts by some very brave people this weekend. Destigmatizing the Depressed Educator by Mandy Froehlich, Too Much by Colleen Rose and material by  Chris Nihmey.

I have worked with Chris and he is a gifted writer, presenter and mental health advocate. I have met Colleen and I found Mandy’s post thanks to George Couros.

All three of these people are educators and all three have moved onto the global stage to share some of their most personal struggles about mental health with the world. Colleen and Mandy have posted recently about their struggles on their blogs. Chris is a well-known advocate in the Ottawa area.

By writing and speaking out, they are educators in the truest sense of the word. They have all moved beyond the classroom and they are using themselves to highlight the struggles people go through who are dealing with mental health issues. As educators and excellent communicators, they are very well suited to take to this stage.

We trust our teachers and we learn from them in all sorts of ways. As educators, we have a responsibility to speak out on important issues like this one.

Being open about their own struggles is extremely difficult, but it means so much for all those who come into contact with their stories.

Mental health is still a scary story. Very few people want to make their stories public and many people live their suffering in silence. Others have difficulty supporting those who are suffering, either they are scared or they see the sufferer as somehow untouchable.

I have done my own writing on this topic so I know what these people are risking and I applaud them for speaking up and normalizing something that is so common but still is seldom spoken about.

The struggles are difficult, but there is good that can come out of these trials. When an educator speaks about such a personal struggle, they are giving permission for others to realize that mental health is something that most people struggle with at some point in their lives.

It also means that students, educators and parents will begin to find a more accepting audience when they take the risk involved in coming forward with their own journey. I know that I became a much better principal and counsellor once I started to learn about my own mental health issues. I could empathize and understand much better now what students and parents go through. I like to think that I was a much more effective educator because of my own struggles.

I am writing here to acknowledge what these teachers are doing and to say that these people are being educators in the most important way. They are putting themselves out there so that others can learn and feel accepted when they struggle.

Struggling in silence is terrible. Making mental health something that we can all talk about is essential. Having respected educators being open about their own struggles is liberating for all of us.

Thanks to all of you!

The End of School Resource Officers in Toronto District Public Schools

Black Lives Matter activists called for an end to the school resource officer program in June, during a meeting at the Toronto Police Services Board. (RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

I have been watching and reading about the surprising decision taken this week by the Toronto District School Board to end the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in all Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools. I call it surprising because as a school administrator for over ten years here in Ottawa, the SRO program has been nothing but positive, especially in our elementary schools where the SRO was a truly positive presence in the schools I worked in.

I realize that the situation in Toronto is different than that in Ottawa and that the program needed to be reviewed. The article in the Toronto Star notes that a full-year review by Ryerson University was taking place and that SROs had been pulled from schools for the first three months of this year while the review took place.

I would imagine that there is no need for the review to continue as the TDSB Chair noted in an interview that the program will not be returning to schools (see 2:40 of the interview).

It is hard to understand how decisions like this get made. As a vice-principal in a very busy intermediate (Gr. 7-8) school and as a principal in two elementary schools, the SRO was always a key ingredient in our school safety plans. They helped us with our lock-down drills, talked to students in assemblies and in the classroom and even took in recess duty – the kids really loved this.

There is no question that the SRO always did a good job of making the police more visible and more a part of the community for our students. In cases where the school population was mainly made up of students new to Canada, the SRO may have been the first friendly police officer these children would have encountered.

I have written and spoken about this before. For our schools to really do a better job we need to build positive partnerships within the community. Whenever you cut out a partner without first trying to repair a long-standing relationship you are making a mistake.

Last week there was a national debate on violence in the schools. I am not sure how we are making schools safer by taking out the schools’ most significant partner invested in keeping our schools safe.

To me, this seems like a step backwards. While the majority of students said they had no problem with SROs in the schools and while a significant review was taking place, staff, then trustees decided to end a significant community partnership.

While 57 per cent said having police in school made them feel safer, 46 per cent said they weren’t sure they wanted the program to continue. But 1,715 (11 per cent) said the presence of an officer intimidated them and 2,207 — or 14 per cent — said they felt watched and targeted as a result.

Toronto Star – TDSB votes down police presence in high schools

There are certainly problems in Toronto between the police and some local communities. The rhetoric can get heated (note the photo taken from the Toronto Star), but we don’t solve problems by building taller silos. I hope this is an issue that gets further discussion in the near future.

It would be so instructive to hear what teachers and administrators think about this issue. Their opinions should matter on such an important topic.

How do We Respond to Violence in our Schools?

This morning I listened to a very disturbing interview on CBC Ottawa. A local Ottawa teacher was being interviewed about a violent incident that ended his teaching career. You can read an article about the incident here.

This is a very brave teacher. He is speaking out about violence in schools, a topic that does not get enough public discussion.

It is hard to read this article. In cases like this, the rights of staff to remain safe in their workplace are not being considered. When a student is suspended, their right to privacy trump the rights of staff to work in a safe environment. Merely moving a violent student to another school does nothing to solve the problem, it simply moves it along to another school where teachers are equally in the dark about the presence of a violent offender in their midst.

The CBC asked teachers to speak out about violence in their school and I hope they respond. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) commissioned a study that reported 60 percent of teachers surveyed have personally experienced violence in the school.

I think the actual percentage is much higher than this. I have heard of incidents this year where students have actually tried to break into classes to get at students. Schools seem to be helpless when it comes to dealing with these incidents.

I remember being in a situation where we actually had to physically restrain a student who wanted to get at another pupil who was locked in my office for his own protection. As the incident played out, students in the school had to be rerouted to other parts of the school to keep them safe. While we were able to keep the violent student restrained, the incident was never debriefed and the only feedback we received from our school board was criticism on the methods we used to restrain the student.

These incidents happen every day in our schools. In many cases, educational assistants are the ones who are being injured. While some of these staff members have training working with violent students, teachers and administrators seldom receive this type of training.

The system is skewed in favor of the student and their need for privacy. When a student receives a suspension or some other consequence staff members are rarely informed. There is no procedure to keep staff members safe from a violent offender and their right to privacy comes before the right of school staff to remain safe.

I am not surprised to read that violence is increasing in the schools. Whatever is happening in society is reflected in the school. Andrew Campbell wrote an excellent article on the lack of mental health services in our schools – The Hypocrisy of Student Well-being. In his article Andrew points out that very little is currently being done to provide schools with the resources they need to deal with a growing mental health crisis in the schools.

So during a time of crisis, as students are suffering and educators are getting hurt, the ministry’s new well-being program is more focussed on funding active transportation and breakfast programs than providing front line support to children with mental health needs. In fact the major initiative to address student mental health is a provincial support team that doesn’t work directly with students. Unacceptable.

I hope that this excellent article will get more attention. It is hard to hear about a teacher suffering a career-ending injury and it is troubling to know that these incidents will continue to happen until we begin to take a serious look at the growing mental health crisis that is making our schools an increasingly hazardous place to work.

Response to George Couros: 4 Ways To Not Let Others Dim Your Light

One of the great things about walking all day is that you have lots of time to think. This latest post has been on my mind and I think after walking such a great distance, it is a good idea to put this out there.

Again, George Couros is an inspiration, but this is something that was on my mind throughout our West Highland Way trek. I would encourage you to read his entire post. He makes a great deal of sense and I just wish more people in senior administration would do more than just retweet his work and ponder what he is saying.

I hope that what George writes and what I am writing here will help people who are going through similar experiences. If this is you, read carefully what George writes and don’t let anyone ever dim your light!

The reality of our world is that people get threatened when other people shine their light on the world.  This bothers me even more so when it is educators doing it to educators, as our jobs are to empower those we serve, not try to bring them down.  If you are doing this to a colleague or peer, would you do it to a student? Would you do it to my daughter if she was in your classroom?  In education, this is unacceptable.

Here is my response to the post.

Thanks George, a very good post and excellent advice. There does come a time however when you need to consider leaving the system when those in positions of higher authority have made the decision to block you any way they can. I guess this come under #3 ‘move on and ignore’.

You are right to point out that it is strange that educators can treat other educators poorly, but my experience tells me that with a few notable exceptions, educators forget who they are (or were) the higher up the corporate eduladder they climb.

They can be very cruel and unforgiving to the point where on my case, they suspended me for three weeks without cause. While I was later vindicated and invited back into the professional fold, they never apologized which to me is inexcusable.

A year after my suspension, I retired from my board and I am much more at peace. I still have a great community of positive fellow educators that I work and correspond with, but I no longer have to suffer the negative soul destroying authoritarians who made my life so difficult.

Coming on to two years now after the suspension, it still rankles and this is something that could still be solved with a simple ‘sorry’.

How can we expect to make real progress in our education systems when the people at the top expect blind compliance. To forge a different path means that you could be punished with impunity.

That was the end of my comment today.

I don’t expect ever to hear from my former employers. It would be good if they took responsibility for their actions. It was shameful, but I have certainly moved on.

I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have had the privilege of assisting my partner through major surgery and I have trekked more than 100 km through the Western Highlands with my daughter.

I have left the past behind and I love the exciting challenges that the future presents.

Thanks George and the West Highland Way for getting this post written – finally! Now on to more great positive adventures in the future.