What she says v. what they hear

Some brilliance from Sue King over at LeaderTalk:

I have said, "We must be explicit about what we want students to know, understand and be able to do."
What some heard was, "You are not doing a good job."

I have said, "We will be more effective [if] we collaborate and work together to figure out how to best meet the needs of our students."
What some heard was, "You are not doing a good job."

I have said, "The responsibilities of public education have changed; we can learn together how to be successful in this new environment."
What some heard was, "You are not doing a good job."

I have said, "I believe in the ability of teachers to reach and teach ALL children."
What some heard was, "You are not doing a good job."

Educators’ reflexive defensiveness is a fact of life in most school organizations and is a challenge for leaders who are trying to move their schools in new directions. What do you see in your school or district?

11 Responses to “What she says v. what they hear”

  1. I totally agree that teachers are defensive. What teachers should here instead of “You are not doing a good job,” is “the students are changing and we are educating them for an unpredictable future.”

  2. I see this a lot when I work with teachers. I study representations of American Indians in children’s books, media, pop culture, etc. When I offer critiques of said representations as biased or stereotypical, the ‘listener’ hears “you are racist” for liking that book/image/mascot/etc.

  3. I think teachers are defensive, but I also think they are justified in their defensiveness. They are under tremendous pressure to complete an enormous task every day. They are often criticized for what they don’t do and rarely praised for what they do well. I think the community at large needs to change their perceptions about teachers. If they got a little more respect, maybe they wouldn’t be so defensive. I also see Ms. King’s point. Defensiveness get in the way experimentation and open-mindedness. Creating stronger bonds between educators and their communities may be a step toward changing the attitudes of teachers and community members alike.

  4. Teacher’s defensiveness can be attributed to a number of factors some justified and some not.
    What I encounter most is trying to open eyes to new ideas and new technology being taken as the old way is better. Granted for every new idea there may be adversity or a lack of familiarity to overcome but teachers need to look at the potential long term benefits to the students. New day, new way.

  5. I think that teachers are defensive. I often introduce articles and new ideas and they frequently hear or see that as teachers they are not doing a good job. In a way we cannot blame teachers, many especially high school teach subjects; vocabulary and grammatical structures and that does not change so why should they change or care that the world is changing and that students need to be taught in different ways.

  6. I agree with Bonnie. In some districts, teachers are evaulated by an observation on a single 30-45 min. lesson. They may receive low scores on their evaulation, even though the observation is a snapshot of what they accomplish all year. (hmm..sounds a bit like standardized testing..) Teachers are rarely treated like professionals who are experts in their field. Parents, the media and sometimes administration often blatantly announce that they know the right method and that teachers need to change. I think Sue King’s statements are good examples of how to respectfully approach a professional. Unfortunately, there are some teachers who still may not want to change.

  7. Thanks for posting this – I found Sue’s post interesting and posted about it myself. http://imadreamerteacher.blogspot.com/2009/04/bulk-of-responsibility.html

    Teachers do get defensive, in part because of the issues Bonnie raised, but also because it seems that the whole responsibility for lack of growth is often placed on us. We’re part of it, absolutely, but not exclusively, at least not in my opinion. I don’t think Sue meant to do that, but based on her post and the quotes, that’s how it read to me, and might have sounded to her school.

  8. Due to a bad principal a few years ago – there are people on my campus that do react this way. She once threatened to write me up for not using a required program that I had criticized as being poorly designed. She had never signed the purchase order to get it for my grade. I had kept the e-mails that I sent each time progress reports and report cards went out that said “I am unable to include students’ performance on “Program materials” in this round of grades because I have not yet received materials yet.

    My current principal is turning the tide on this atmosphere. At every faculty meeting – he praises different teachers. The praise is real praise and specific about what the teacher is doing.

    Also he doesn’t speak in general terms when he wants something to change. He doesn’t dress down individuals – but he will say I’m hearing this negative talk it stops now.

    If something on campus isn’t working he will spell out the problem and ask for input and discussion. We will often vote on the solutions we want to try. So we don’t feel we are being condemned by faint praise or double talk.

  9. Kia ora Scott

    I concur that teachers tend to be defensive.

    People (not just teachers) also tend to interpret and reinterpret what they hear. This comes about through a continuous flow of ambiguities that seem to come forth all the time from CEOs, politicians, authorities, sales people, adverts.

    The norm is that, whatever the message, it has to be interpreted.

    Can you blame teachers for reinterpreting what they hear, given that they are defensive to begin with?

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  10. It’s interesting that Sue King presents a series of statements/conclusions rather than a series of questions. The best partnerships start with a real question and people who care about finding an answer. Working side by side with people on questions you both think are important build the trust you need to move ahead on the tough stuff. Meetings are pretty much the last place where this is going to happen, and books are only really useful when they remind us that we can’t change other people, only the way we respond to them.

  11. A vision of the future is a basis for change. The statements have no context. A culture of improvement is essential; many could have heard “Yes we need to improve”, rather some heard “You are not doing a good job”. Rather than a “continuous flow of ambiguities” (read BS – my interpretation), clarity on vision, progress and “the how” are so vital and frequently so lacking.
    The sense of urgency is much less than the gravity of the status quo in most districts that I’ve observed. Is it an innate human to do better? How do we cultivate that latent asset?
    “Partnership” seems to be very low in many systems – a real us/them mindset. The admin/teacher chasm seems as wide as management/labor divisiveness was decades ago in other industries. Is K12 really immune from outsourcing?
    Of course “some hear” – you always have resistors and nay-sayers. How many, how influential, are their ranks growing? Those are the questions leaders need to be monitoring – too many, too influential and growing – ya’ gotta a heck of a problem…
    We are also working in a BOHICA environment (bend over here it comes again :-)). Most educators have been through so many failed change efforts; little wonder cynicism is so prevalent. Too many flavor of the month/year programs!

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