How Teacher Leaders Can Face the 'Rabble-Rouser Dementor'
I just had a long conversation with a colleague about being a rabble-rouser. Except that he didn't expect to walk into the role. He thought he was being the best teacher he could be based on his experience and research. I wish I could say this was uncommon, but I feel like this is a familiar plague with great teachers and teacher leaders. The fact is that taking leaps and professional risks can result in unintended consequences and pushback, even though many feel that these risks help teachers grow to be more effective and promote teacher leadership.
Here is an anecdote of one time I came face-to-face with this Rabble-Rouser Dementor. I think that the more times you see this dementor, the easier he is to face. Confidence comes with each time you battle. This was one time of many, but this one really shook me.
I had been working with a handful of National Board Certified Teachers in my school district to organize a small education policy summit at my school where teachers, staff, and parents could come together and talk to local policymakers about issues that were on the horizon in the upcoming legislative session. The goal: To better connect policymakers in our district and state with education stakeholders and teachers. To be proactive with policies that impact our classrooms versus reactive once we realized what bills were on the slate. To form better working relationships between all parties involved.
So we invited our local representatives and senators, the lobbyists from the school district and our union, and our event evolved into a beautiful and hopeful occurrence for all parties involved.
And then my phone rang.
Before I write any further, I would like to preface that I will be facing the rabble-rouser dementor by writing the next few paragraphs about a former leader in my life. I write this not to call people out for past events, but to illustrate the point that sometimes our wrists are slapped as teachers for doing what we feel is best.
Recognizing the number on caller i.d. as that of my school district, I picked it up. Superintendent's office. I was on hold for my superintendent. YES! We had been trying to get ahold of her for the invite, but we hadn't heard from her office. My heart skipped a beat with excitement.
By the end of the conversation, my heart had sunk into my stomach. I had been reprimanded by someone I looked up to as a leader. And I didn't see it coming—maybe that was my naivety or eternal optimism operating as blinders. I was seen as a rabble-rouser and was warned about the political waters I was wading into. I was asked to make sure everything went through the superintedent's office. When I visualize the event now, I picture a mafia-like character behind a smoky desk making the phone call and warning me of impending danger, and I think my mind may be getting away from me a bit. But I also think the feeling might be similiar...
Instead of letting this mafia-style warning stop us from our event, we decided to proceed forward cautiously. We had our event with about 30 teachers, one state representative, and one lobbyist. We connected, people networked, and relationships were formed (across party lines, I might add). We buried the ask to halt the event and took the plunge, knowing that we felt it was what was best for kids, our state, and our district. The dementor had circled above us, but we didn't let him stay.
So what is a teacher to do when that Rabble-Rouser Dementor circles?
I wish there were an easy 1-2-3 list to attack this particular Dementor, but it is so nuanced. Every person is different, every situation is different, every context is different, and let's face it: In education, every day is different. But here are some questions to consider:
- How much risk am I comfortable taking?
- Are there other people that may be impacted by my choice?
- Are there places of compromise? Where am I possibly willing to budge? What might be a safe first step if the risk is too great?
- What are repercussions if I make the move I am considering?
- What are the repercussions if I don't make the move?
- Where is the pushback coming from? How can I better understand those perspectives? What am I not considering with my ownperspective?
- How does this line up with my morals? Ethics? Beliefs? Philosophy of learning and education?
- How long have I been at my school or in my job? Is it long enough to where people trust my choices, even if they may be seen as non-conventional?
- How might I frame this differently to those that might not agree with my choice? How might I help others see the benefits and be okay with my choice?
- Where are their allies? Thought partners?
And if the Dementor circled and you didn't see it coming, here are a few questions to help you with any damage control you may think about doing after being labeled the Rabble-Rouser:
- How do I repair any relationships that may have been impacted? (Knowing this can take TIME)
- How might this impact my work? My teaching?
- How can I defuse any negative impact?
- How might I highlight the positive to those who are feeling like I am rabble-rouser?
- Or, is it even worth my time worrying about this?
Have you ever experienced a time where you felt like rabble-rouser? What happened? What advice can you give when facing this dementor?
Photo courtesy of Lydia and Charly Karl.