Educators work in a seemingly contradictory space. All at once we are surround by people and secluded from our peers. For the vast majority of the day, we are literally walled off from each other in most schools. This undoubtedly impacts campus culture.
I recently wrote about the power of an invitation, especially in view of this isolated life that educators often live. After reading, Bill Ferriter challenged me to take this treatment that I had originally targeted adults with and extend it to the classroom.
I loved the challenge!
Or at least the idea of it.
The more I reflected on this shift in focus, the more I began to realize that each invitation we might extend to students requires a certain amount of vulnerability. I’ve long been a believer that as the adult in the room, we should be the ones placing ourselves at the most vulnerable place in the conversation, but believing that and living that out are different experiences. The reality is that leading new, risky, “out their” change will almost always involve operating out of a vulnerable posture. Embrace it. (Just so you know, I’m telling myself as much as I’m telling you.)
Here are a few ways we can engage students in an invitation into something more. They start out relatively easy, but the level of vulnerability required feels like it exponentially increases as the invitations continue.
Invite Students To Share Your Story
I love the way that I have heard about other educators inviting students into the process of sharing the school’s story online. Adam Welcome even uses students as social media interns on his campus. There is such tremendous value in telling the story of our school (or of your classroom) online, and I love the idea of inviting students into that space. How great would it be to ask students to pay attention to the ways we celebrate our successes at school and value others by sharing about their accomplishments? I’m going to try this next year with the 5th and 6th graders I serve, and I’m excited to see how this invitation goes.
Invite Students to Teach
Many of us have had this experience: There’s a student in class who you think genuinely might know more about a given topic than you know as the teacher, and you have to “teach” him or her. Why not embrace that, model humility, and invite that student into a place to share his or her expertise? I think it would be great! A little out of the comfort zone for most teachers, but a valuable invitation to validate students and share the stage in your classroom.
Invite Students to Share Their Interests in Your Content
I came across these two tweets recently, and I don’t know if I can capture how much I really like this idea!
I started my history 30 class off this way last semester: "What do you want to know about Canada?" It worked really well!
— Ian Hecht (@ianhecht) July 3, 2016
What would change if we operated out of this posture? What would we do differently? There would be practices we adopt and practices we shelve (some for the rest of our career). We would learn a great deal about what we’re trying to fish for most of the time–what’s engaging to students. I think it’s worth extending the invitation, but I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a leap of faith to put yourself out there for this sort of input.
Invite Students to Coach You
Alright. Stick with me. Some of the easier suggestions seem risky (at least to me), but this seems pretty out there.
I think it could work though.
You would need some clear scaffolding and some specific structures in place to make it work, but think of the power of inviting a student to speak into your life as a professional. There’s a part of me that thinks this is just too risky. Or too much work. Or just too much to fit into an already busy school year. Or just too scary.
I think the ceiling is pretty high on how beneficial this could be though. Even if you just brought in a former student (which might be even better), I think it would be a powerful invitation that would lead to a remarkable experience for both student and teacher.
Still, this seems like a big risk to take, and I want to acknowledge that here. There are well worn practices that could be overturned here. We could learn that a strength really presents to our audience as a weakness. We could find that our assumptions, in all sorts of directions, were off base.
And that’s hard. Don’t hear me oversimplify this. It’s hard. Really hard. But like most experiences that require us to step into vulnerability, it’s worth it.
I thought that this blog post was done here initially. Turns out it wasn’t. I’m going to share the rest here.
I truly see my role as an assistant principal as a teacher of teachers. Thankfully, I’m quite content to not be the sage on the stage. I sure don’t have all the answers even in the conversations I’m most comfortable engaging, and there are just so much that I defer to the expertise of others. Even if I wanted to, I’m not equipped to be the keeper of knowledge.
So, as I look toward next year, I feel the weight of these invitations in a very real way:
- Invite teachers to share our school’s story
- Invite teachers to teach our staff
- Invite teachers to share their interest in what I have to share
- Invite teachers to coach me (current or former or both)
All of a sudden, I feel the weight of these suggestions.
As a leader, I feel a great deal of pressure to get this right. After all, if my claim is that students will benefit from the ways their teachers live this out, I think that holds true for the adult learners as well.
I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers or anything like that, but seeing these invitations in a different light reminds me of how important they each are. I’m glad to be reminded of it. It keeps me from thinking life is as simple as a list on a blog post can seem.
Beyond that, it energizes me to lean into vulnerability required from leaders (titled and untitled) as we do what we know is best for learners in our schools. It makes me excited for the next year, and it motivates me to be my best.
So, in whatever role you find yourself next year, find those invitations that need to be extended to those around you. Best of luck in your invitations! Such great growth awaits!