L-I-S-T-E-N

photo 1 (5)I hate spelling bees. The unnecessary pressure on kids, the meaninglessness of getting every letter right in a word so obscure it risks ridiculousness, and the public tightrope we ask students to walk all turn my stomach.

A teacher I work with and respect loves spelling bees. She cites the value of working hard to achieve something academic, the value of public praise, and the joy that fills the faces of the winners.

We can talk.

And she knows that if she wants to organize a spelling bee at Diegueño, I won’t get in her way.

I come back to that quotation attributed to Robert Frost: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

Building and nurturing a professional atmosphere, where it’s more than okay for people to have different points of view, is a hallmark of a healthy school.

Just last month, as I was discussion a big school decision about how we’ll organize our “Cougar Academic Time” I got a reminder of where we are as a school. Shooting for transparency, I told one of the teachers I was talking with, a department chair, my point of view, which I knew from earlier discussions was different than hers, and she nodded and explained why she felt the way she did. A first year teacher was having lunch with us, and she listened to what both of us had said. Then, in a moment that made me pleased and proud, she said: “You know, I think I like a totally different way we could do it.”

The comfort this first year teacher had in telling her principal and department chair her opinion, knowing it was about an important subject that we all have a vested interest in, and knowing that it was very different than what either had in mind, is the kind of open communication that is so important in education today.

Twitter, edublogs, edcamps, and all the new ways educators connect can be a boon, but if they’re really going to move our practice forward, we must be willing and able both to say and hear different points of view, and like Frost, not lose our tempers or self-confidence.

That means actively asking questions, both of ourselves and others, like “what am I not thinking about?” or “what am I missing?” It means reading opinions that challenge what we do, putting our own ideas out there, and inviting conversation.

How do we avoid the echo chamber of like minded colleagues? How do we avoid being “yes men and women” ourselves? I think it’s simply by embracing the mindset that we’re all learning, and that sometimes our best teachers are those people who help us feel uncomfortable enough to make change.

That shouldn’t anger us or shake our confidence; it should educate us.

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