Myself and Chad are on our way to Phuket to spend a week at the wonderful, small, new school called The Gecko School. This is a cool story in itself, and one I will tell in subsequent postings this week.
However, I am going to look backwards first, to my time working in the city I sit in now – Bangkok – en route to Phuket.
I was here last week too, and bumped into a couple of ex-colleagues as I wandered around the city I both love and hate. We sat for a few minutes and analyzed the strange culture of one of my former schools – a place where innovative and “different” teachers tend to struggle. One of them casually came out with a statement about teachers who don’t share their ideas and try and glorify themselves by keeping hold of them and being secretive about how they teach. I nodded without really considering what was said. I only really thought about it afterwards, and it annoyed me because I was pretty sure it was a thinly veiled dig at me!
It is in the nature of ideas that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It is also in the nature of ideas that they are spontaneous and organic. Very often, one is not aware of how good an idea actually is until its happening! A strong teaching team is aware of what each other is doing in their classrooms. Student learning is public. Doors are open. Chats about learning are frequent, formal and informal. When you see something working in another classroom, your curiosity is piqued… you ask the students and teacher what they are doing, why they are doing it and how. You may ask the teacher to come and run a session in your class – or, even better, some students. Or you may just pop back, take a few photos and consider how, or even if, to adapt it to the way your own students and classroom culture operates.
It is not a problem caused by “Ideas People” not sharing their ideas. It is a problem of the people who have the ideas sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and ending up being stigmatized because of their ideas. Having other people not think their ideas were valid, worthwhile, important, meaningful, realistic… but then when they see those ideas come to fruition, when they see those ideas become powerful, when they see a transformation in those students because of those ideas – that is when they announce that ideas were not shared. That is when the envy kicks in, that’s when it all turns around… because there’s no proof. There’s no proof that they didn’t hear that idea, see that idea, chat about that idea… but just didn’t think it was a good idea.
But there is proof that they didn’t do it. And there is proof that the teacher who did do it, did do it! And there is proof that their students’ learning was transformed because of it.
Sadly, in some schools, that is proof enough to damage a great teacher, to render one guilty of not being a “team player”. I am not sure that many people in schools have a very sophisticated understanding of what a team really is.
- So, if you are one of those “Ideas People”, be strong. Let your practice do the talking. People who are genuinely interested will show their interest in positive ways – make them welcome. They will be important allies when times get tough.
- And, if you are one of those people who keeps pointing your finger at “Ideas People” and copping out by saying they are not a team player, look to yourself first… that may well be the root of the problem.
I have been to many schools and have worked with many different people, mostly people from Western countries. Where I am working now, is totally different in every way. I am in Africa. A Kenyan school with international standards.
Above is a photo of my teaching partner. His name is Martin and he is a Kenyan. He is a true gentleman. Martin will always greet people and acknowledge everyone he meets. He really loves kids and he is great at what he does. Martin is an excellent mathematics teacher. He is consistent. Martin is a listener and observer.
I want to share a story with you about our relationship. It is worth telling. Martin is wise. He says things as they are (respectfully) and always asks, “how does this add value to learning.” Something I really admire in him. This post is actually more of a selfish post to record my own learning, because I have much to learn from Martin.
This story is an obvious one to tell. It’s a story where you will easily predict the outcome. It’s something we all know about, but may not practice it. It is a story that has allowed me to step back, take some time to think and clear some head space to reflect on how I approach things, in the African context.
Martin and I are totally different, in every way. Where we are from, our experiences, our background. Martin and I have had a very ‘bumpy’ start to our year. There has been frustration and tension between us for many reasons. Today, Martin come to my room and shared something really obvious, but I had not realized it myself.
Martin said, “You know so much about PYP. I cannot come up to your level. You need to come to my level if we are ever going to make this work.” He explained how I have come from a place and system that is efficient and effective. Things have always just worked well.
When you add these things to someone who is a ‘driver’ by nature it is really easy to become frustrated. Especially when things don’t work the way you see it and at the pace it should be. We were not seeing the same things, we were like two of the same magnets resisting each other.
This diagram best represents how we have been working together…frankly it hasn’t been working like it should.
I was struck by lightening as Martin was sharing with me. I have been spinning so fast lately, that I did not see something I would of normally have been mindful of. Pluralism – is an AKAM strand and I had failed to see it, and it was right in front of me.
Martin explained how he has been to Europe and how he enjoyed the way things just flowed and worked there. Coming back to Africa was difficult for him as there is less order and organization. He could understand why I was behaving and reacting the way I have been.
He said “Chad, we need to go from the bottom up. It is the only way for us to move forward together.” His message was so wise, clear and accurate. It made complete sense of why things have been so challenging for us. We have been pushing from opposite ends.
This visual come to me as Martin was waving his hands from bottom to top. Here was an international teacher, imparting open-mindedness, appreciation, tolerance, respect….. to students, but had failed to recognize it myself.
Again, I realize how obvious this story is. In all of its simplicity, it brought me clarity and I connected with Martin today. I know that our relationship will be different tomorrow, because we shared this moment together. I may know a lot of PYP knowledge… Martin, taught me how to live it today. Thank you, Martin!