I can still remember everything that happened when the terrible tragedy of 9/11 happened fifteen years ago. I was teaching high school mathematics, and one of my students, who had used the restroom pass, walked back in the classroom telling us that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. Without knowing what was really happening, I kept teaching the math lesson. What seemed like a few minutes later, a student walking down the hallway passing my classroom announced another plane hit another building.
Confused, I glanced over at the TV mounted to the wall. The TV was used for daily video announcements and certain, special events. We did have access to a few news channels. What seemed like a hypnotic conversation between the students and me to turn on the TV, I wasn't sure the protocol in this situation. Abandon the math lesson, or look for a news station?
After glancing for a moment at the dry-erase board filled with equations and graphs, I walked towards the door and shut it. The door created a seal between my class and the rest of the building, and an ability to create a perceived distance in my thoughts and actions. I walked over to the TV and turned it on, so we could watch history unfold of a monumental moment for my life as well as my students.
Looking back now as an educational leader and administrator, I still wonder why I felt the need to pause in that decision to abandon the prepared lesson for a relevant, timely new one. And, I wonder why I needed to close the door to feel freedom in doing the right thing.
I have a great respect for my Principal at the time, and I think he would have approved my request to watch the news, if asked. But, I question why I feel like I would have needed to ask. Why did I feel like I would have needed permission?
Even before the new standards, the increased testing, and the changes in the evaluation system, I didn't feel we had an overt, open conversation, with permission, to broach relevant topics or issues at that time.
As an administrator know, my hope is to be crystal clear that we not just passively approve requests for teaching relevant lessons, but we proactively encourage, engage, and even recognize opportunities for teachers to share with students, regardless of the lesson.
And, instead of lurking in the shadows or feeling the need to shut the door, we openly shift and adapt our learning in those teachable moments.
When leaders provide clarity, people don't need to lurk or hide.
Below are three questions to guide leaders in helping others to open the door:
1. What conversations have happened among your staff to support and foster these opportunities?
2. How have you modeled this behavior among the staff as well as students?
3. What could you do in the next week to create this culture in your classroom or building?