Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Let's Be Independent...Together!

[The backstory: Hermey is an elf, and elves are supposed to make toys, period. Hermey tries to fit in, but he really wants to be a dentist. Feeling no support from his fellow elves to pursue his dream, Hermey strikes out on his own. Similarly, Rudolph, a red-nosed reindeer, desperately wants to fit in with his peers, but is mocked because his nose lights up. Feeling no love from his fellow reindeer, Rudolph strikes out on his own. The two self-proclaimed misfits meet in the forest, exchange some quick pleasantries, and then Hermey asks Rudolph, "what do you say we be independent, together?" Forging a working partnership that ultimately includes a prospector and an abominable snowman, together Hermey and Rudolph face down tough obstacles on a journey of collaboration, personal growth, and community learning.]

While my synopsis of the 1964 TV classic "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is tongue-in-cheek, it serves as a reminder to me of what can happen when people (or elves) want to break out of a routine or mold they feel constrained by, or when others approach a job with a new look or feel that may cause an initial reaction of fear in others. Sometimes tradition and existing structures, while well-meaning and productive, do not support change. But it also serves to remind me that no one really wants to go it alone; we want and need collaborative partners. We only go alone as a last resort.

Questions I am constantly posing to myself (and all of the other reindeer) include how might the traditional notion of how a teacher teaches, or how a student learns, constrain us? And how might the current structure of school and what it is supposed to "look like" prevent us from thinking differently? Moreover, how do we react when someone pitches a new idea that challenges what we know and are comfortable with? Do we shy away and leave them alone, or do we embrace the opportunity to collaborate and learn with them?

In the classic story, the community figured out that not only could it support Hermey's desire to become a dentist and still meets its goal of building toys, but it was rather efficient to have a dentist on hand. Similarly, Rudolph's red nose was a talent the community realized could be leveraged to help the team complete its mission in delivering those toys on schedule. Hermey and Rudolph were no longer viewed as misfits, and no longer had to be "independent, together." I submit that Hermey and Rudolph were innovators ahead of their time.

Join the conversation...
Everyone has the individual potential to be an innovator. What desires and talents lie within our teachers that need to be supported, so that they may in turn fulfill that part of our district mission to provide kids with learning opportunities "to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to build meaningful and productive lives"? Another framing of that question might be how do we engage through our District Professional Learning Goal to break down barriers and "use a cycle of collaborative intentional planning and reflection to increase our instructional expertise and deepen student learning"? Regardless of how you frame the inquiry, what are your thoughts?