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March 19, 2021

Hello. It’s Us.

It’s been said we tend to write the same story over and over. So here I go again. After a vacation of balanced living including time in the mainstream culture, here’s my heartfelt New Years take on the culture of our profession, the role colleagues play in our effectiveness, and our love of the job.

Idea #1: The Power to Tip

I reread Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point to ruminate on what he refers to as the “magic moment” when “an idea or social behavior tips and spreads like wildfire.”

What can Gladwell teach us about changing the culture of our profession from isolated and untrusting, to open, encouraging, and united? What would it take for this type of social behavior to spread like wildfire in our profession? In describing the factors that make ideas go viral he states, “I believe in the effect of the immediate impact of environment and situation on people’s behavior.” I also believe this to be true — that as teachers, despite our optimism and efforts, our relationships are shaped by the limits of the system and policies, and the structures, of the work day.

From the beginning, we enter the profession with visions of greatness. Yet with limited training and guidance, we arrive not ready, and soon become lonely. It’s very hard to be great with little time afforded to learn, to be curious, and to rejuvenate with colleagues. We discover that teaching is emotionally taxing — it wears us down — and with time we keep our doors closed and our heads down, except for parking lot “debriefs.” This culture is then passed to the next generation.

I also believe that we have the power to shape the profession outside these boundaries — if we stick together. Yet New Years, as we reset, start anew, and name with great hope our personal resolutions, old ideas can haunt us: We are what we eat. We are the stories we tell. We are what we think. We are alone. We are pawns.

New ideas give us power and courage to think differently about the system that shapes us; to create movement in a different direction: We are who we model. We are who we help. We are unstoppable.

Idea #2: The Aretha Factor

Speaking of viral, if you missed this, fix that now. I have watched and analyzed this excerpt from the annual Kennedy Awards of Aretha Franklin singing to honoree Carole King ten times.

It’s easy to see why this moment went viral and is still being talked about one week later. After ten viewings, I am still smiling about:

  • The sheer connection between Aretha and Carole. Rewatch and pause @ 3:24 to see the appreciation of a beautiful moment, the mutual admiration, the collaborative spirit, the cheering of each other, the joy in a job well done. Unity. If we ever have a version of the Kennedy Awards for educators, this is what I want the camera to capture. Beautiful teaching, collaboration, and deep gratitude for inspiring and elevating each other.
  • The power of models. Every story told on the Kennedy Center stage, prior to the Aretha moment, captured how fellow honorees Cicely Tyson and Rita Moreno paved the way for others with courage, grace, tenacity, integrity, attention to mentoring, and giving back. The stories told by appreciative “students” reflected the power of models and the spirit they create. It can be done.

Idea #3: Does Anyone Say It Better Than Amy?

Amy Poehler quote

So in the new year, as we think optimistically about our teaching and our profession, let’s consider rising up against the structures that have defined and divided us. Find your people, open your door, be the model that inspires others, band together. We are the culture we create.

Happy, Happy New Year Tch Community!


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