I love a good professional learning day. I love it for a variety of reasons. Of course, I love learning alongside teachers. But what I love about learning alongside teachers is the listening part. I love listening to teachers.
It’s the listening for me.
To start, teachers are very busy, so when they make space to share what they are thinking with me, it feels like a gift they are entrusting to me. Additionally, teachers spend hours upon hours with students. They are the professionals working most closely with our students, so their insights feel important and thoughtful. Often, I hear things that spark my curiosity, make me want to learn more, and cause me to revisit my own beliefs and practices.
I recently spent time with teachers during a professional learning day. At the end of our conversation, one of them to said to me, “You know, I’ve been here for 30 years, and I don’t think anyone has ever taken the time to listen to me like this. I feel heard.” This made me sad. While I have theories about why that has been this individual’s experience, theories that include being under-staffed and under-funded, it made me wonder how many other people would say the same or feel the same way. Not just in my school district but all over the world.
Especially in larger organizations, if we are not careful, it’s easy for both students and staff to fall between the cracks. Especially when those individuals are meeting or exceeding what is expected because often the attention goes where there are concerns and challenges.
There is a national shortage of educators. Many districts are struggling to retain staff. Certainly, our teachers deserve more. It’s easy to throw our hands up when we personally can’t ensure that educators receive more of what they deserve. But there is a lot that we can and do control in the meantime.
For example, time and how we spend it. Administrators and coaches, we can choose to spend our time in classrooms. Time spent in classrooms is a great way to be inspired. And when you celebrate what is going well with teachers, they feel inspired and encouraged too. In my experience, it’s also the best strategy for holding yourself accountable for keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s easy to lose perspective the further and further way you get from the classroom.
We can also spend our time in conversations that truly elevate the voices of our educators. We can ensure that we are valuing the precious time that educators have been ensuring that our meetings are meaningful and productive. There are many funny, relatable memes about staff meetings. I saw one that said, “If I die, I hope it’s during a staff meeting because the transition to death would be so subtle.” We’ve all been in meetings where people just drone on and talk at us. If the meeting could have been a well-written email, send the email and give people precious time back.
I also saw a meme that said, “Just once I want to go to a staff meeting where they let us know what they are taking off teachers’ plates.”
This is how many teachers feel. One of the best ways to understand how the work is going is to spend time listening to people talk about the work. For those of us in positions that support educators, I don’t know any other way to do these jobs well. Listening is a must. It’s the same for teachers in the classroom. The best way to meet the needs of students is to spend time listening to students, so you can better understand their needs.
Listening is becoming more and more rare. True listening I should say -is becoming more and more rare. And yet, every person we come into contact with has something to teach us. We cannot learn from each other and appreciate each other if we aren’t taking the time to listen to each other. When we slow down and listen, we can see hearts more clearly. There is good in everyone. Sometimes, it’s just harder to find when things are tough. When the emotions are big and times are stressful, it’s easy to miss the good that’s there. Often, we all want what’s best, we just have different opinions about what that looks like.
At the end of the day, we may not agree, but we all want to be heard. We all want to matter. It’s our most basic human need to simply be known. There is research that indicates some students go an entire school day without hearing their name. There might be staff members who never hear another adult use their name. How deeply isolating. How will we ever be able to talk about hard things and do hard things if we don’t spend time seeing and knowing each other?
This week let’s commit to being the people who say people’s names and say them correctly. Let’s be the people who set aside that to-do list when a student or staff member comes up to us and ask us for a minute that we don’t feel like we have. Let’s commit, even when we don’t feel like it, to greeting each other in the hallway, asking questions, and truly seeing others and listening to them.
If we do not have each other, we have nothing.
People are our most precious resource. Let’s treat them accordingly.