Recognition and Leadership: You get what you give
It is hard being an innovator. Some people just don’t get it. For years I worked in traditional public school systems for administrators who were more worried about their own jobs than they were about supporting teachers and students. I would show up each day to be the best teacher I could be for the students in front of me, but I would eventually burn out after years of trying to work around the system in order to provide engaging, empowering learning opportunities for students.
It was extremely difficult knowing you were making a difference in the lives of so many students, but never being recognized for it. Recognition came about each year when classes were put together and children with exceptional needs were placed in my classroom because I was “good” with them. Across the hall the parents requested the “lecture style” teacher because it was perceived he was more “rigorous.” Rigor and lecture meant better teaching in their eyes.
So year after year administrators came and went, eventually I became tired of fighting the fight and decided to move on. I lasted almost four years in my next district, after writing a grant that helped create a wireless network at the high school and got laptops and iPads into teacher hands and into schools for the very first time. I decided to leave when the third administrator in 4 years was more concerned with my updating the district’s web pages then they were with teaching and learning with technology. I was tired of fighting the fight.
And now here I am in my current role, in charge of creating high quality online professional learning experiences for educators, and after 5 years it is still considered an “experiment.”
I am one of only a couple people in my department who is passionate about what I do. I was handed the reigns a couple years ago and have been trying to make a go of it ever since. It feels like an eternity. I have a team of 2 (including myself) so I am an official leader of 1, but unofficially I have many people from other departments who consult with me whenever online learning opportunities are discussed or imagined. These are the conversations that inspire me to want to be better and do more.
Reflecting back on The Characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset in Chapter 3, I am struck by the importance of empathy and resilience and how interconnected they are. From the point of view of someone in a new position seeking support and mentorship some days I wish I had more support and encouragement; my resilience is waning. In spite of my problem solving, risk taking and innovative practices, at times it feels fruitless. The focus is always on what can I do better, how can I improve, how can I do more- the focus is on weaknesses and deficits while I am trying to focus on strengths and accomplishments. To put it bluntly, I am looking at a glass half full, trying constantly to convince everyone else that the glass doe not have a leak in it as the water level slowly goes down.
As George Couros (The innovator’s Mindset) writes,
The deficit model compels (leaders) to overcompensate in the areas that need to be “fixed.” When that occurs, all the great things that are already happening are quickly forgotten. The bottom line is: an environment where the message is always “we are not good enough” can be demoralizing and counterproductive for all stakeholders. p.125
I guess I thought I was more resilient than I am. The reality is, I have realized the importance of leadership in fostering resilience in those you lead. Some people are naturally resilient, and I thought I was. Now that I am more aware of the importance of empathy in fostering resilience in others, I can be more mindful about my own actions and reactions.