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Dear Administrator: Lead or Shut Up

Posted by on in Leadership
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Are you a leader? Do you think of yourself as one? Are you a good one?

Or, do you just talk a good game?

Do you use beautiful words? Do you act on them? Do you stand up for what's right?

Or do you just talk a good game?

Yes. You guessed it. This is a test. A test of your leadership. It's a hard one too. It will evoke emotions. It will piss some (many?) people off.

No. Not it. I will piss people off. I will challenge you. Ask tough questions. Pull toward action, because there's too much inaction. And, there's too much pseudo-action too...

I will hit hard, because the future of our kids is on the line. My son is three. My other kids are 15-18 and I know them all by name. I know their faces. Sometimes, I get to see them and know their hearts. And I see very little evil. There's joy and pain. There's happiness and heartache. And there's a lot of good. And, I'll be damned if I don't do everything I can to fight for a better world for them. I'll be damned if I can't tell myself that I stood up for what is right when it really counted.

And, I will hate myself if I do not speak the truth and remain a bystander.

Because there are no innocent bystanders. If I look the other way and allow hate to persist, then I am just as guilty as the hate mongers. If I don't challenge the beliefs of those who would create division and hostility, I allow evil to take hold.

In education, we have a certain affinity for "thinking outside the box." This kind of thinking is wrong. Consider school as we know it. First, we tame students to the status quo. My friend, Jon Harper, writes about this in his thought provoking post "Suhm-pin." Once we properly break students, we start teaching critical thinking or "thinking outside the box."

But what if we told students from very early on that there is no box? Rules help maintain order, but many also restrict people and constrict progress. And as such, they're meant to be reshaped, revised, and rewritten... some permanently broken and disposed of. Our kids need to take part in this process. If we keep handing things down to them, we maintain a world in which patriarchs and matriarchs pass their values and beliefs down to new generations unchallenged.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” - Aristotle

A good example of maintaining the status quo and lack of congruence between what we say and what we do in our schools is no more apparent than in the fallout of the 2016 presidential election. We promote critical thinking, but we don't teach kids to think critically. Not really...

We promote safe spaces, but do we provide them? We may protect students while in school, but do we work to provide a safer world for them? Maybe partially... We say prejudice is wrong, but rarely empower our teachers to lead tough conversations that ultimately lead to true world changing progress.

What am I talking about?

Let's dissect an unprejudiced Trump supporter.

Such adult or student may try to separate Trump's bigoted, racist, sexist, and xenophobic rhetoric from his economic policy. And here's where critical thinking comes in. SUCH A FEAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. By voting for Donald Trump, the person casting the ballot also voted for the rhetoric he stands for, whether they like it or not. As educators we need to be clear on this.

We need to educate kids that actions often have unintended consequences. We need to teach them to consider all impacts their decisions may have. We need to ask them to think critically. We need to model it. We need to do it using authentic events. Only then can they make truly informed decisions.

Only then can the world change.

But as we are finding out now, many would be leaders are unwilling to do this, because they want to stay safe. They do not want to offend those who are part of their school community, and maybe, just maybe, hold the same values that our president elect does. And if they don't, they may be offended by being put in the same boat.

But they did get on the boat! It's a boat full of white supremacists, racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. They beat the Trump drum. Maybe not as loudly as the KKK, but the sound was loud enough on November 8th. And they have to face the music...

Many Trump supporters are good people, but the values (or lack thereof) they chose to support are wrong. They are wrong, because they are inhumane. We know it. Yet, in school, we are unwilling to fight, to put up more than a pathetic whimper against them. We passionately say: "That's not what we stand for here!" Then, we passively move on...

I recently took part in a meeting following the election. The intention was to discuss the instances of hate speech and ways to support all of our students, regardless of the candidate they support. Afterword, I talked to one of our administrators about the unique opportunity schools, and thus ourselves have to start changing things. Promoting the freedom of mind. Teaching critical thinking. He did not give me an answer, only a look of "better not go down that road," because he knew what such conversations lead to.

But you know what? They need to be had, because the very purpose of education is to create a better world for ourselves and our children. And if administrators can't see the bigger picture, how can most teachers, parents, or students? To be fair, he is the first year administrator at our building...

However, he is there to lead. And to me, leading involves more than just talking. It involves action, a leader placing himself outside of his comfort zone and showing the way. All throughout this nation, administrators talk about building relationships. I see a lot of it on social, Twitter especially. I see administrators of various districts talk about critical thinking, preparing students for the future, and bucking the status quo.

BUT NOW I AM CONVINCED MOST ARE JUST TALKING. They make beautiful slides. Put beautiful words on them we all can aspire to. BUT WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, THEY SHY AWAY FROM ACTION ON SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES. This is reflected in most (not all) Twitter chats led by administrators. For them, it's business as usual. As my good friend Sean Thom put it: They won't touch controversial issues with a ninety nine and a half foot pole.

Here's my take on this... Thank you for the inspiration, but it's all bullshit if you do not walk the walk. You know it. I do not care if this pisses you off. I am calling you out. I am telling you to lead by example; with action not words for once. I know you've won yourself a seat of power and losing it is scary. So just stop misrepresenting. Stop lying. You're all words. You are pseudo-leaders. You put the anti establishment quotes on slides while you conform to the status quo and count your Twitter followers. Screw you.

I know many of you don't feel comfortable standing up to your district's stakeholders whose views harm kids and their future. But guess what? Leadership is about doing what is right, no matter the consequences. This is why we hope certain people are put in positions of leadership. In reality, many are still placed there to fall in line and maintain the status quo. And so, they are taking a backseat now. And nothing changes...

So my dear administrator, my dear self proclaimed leader reading this... ask yourself: Am I being a leader or am I just maintaining the status quo? Are my words followed by actions, or am I just in it for self aggrandizement, with no true intention to be a change agent?

You have a unique opportunity to change the world. Yes. You read that right. You can be at the forefront of change, lead by example, show others how to lead. It will be tough and you might have to risk much. Are you ready?

Remember... there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If you do nothing, then you are letting hate reign.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. ”

                                                                                                         — Martin Niemoller
You Have The Power To Change The World. Will You Stand Up And Fight?
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Oskar is a Science, Engineering, and Learning How to Learn teacher and an author of the Crush School Book Series.

His professional interests are brain-based teaching and learning, flexible seating (#StarbucksMyRoom founder), social-emotional learning, social justice, and using technology to enhance learning.

He is also a fan of the Jedi order (and uses DA FORCE frequently), ninjas, and the superhero in all of us. He is on a Quest to Change the World because he can. We all can.

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Guest Friday, 15 February 2019