Messy Work

Every so often over the course of my 25 year teaching career I have worn a tie and sports coat to work.  It always seemed to weird my students out.  I am not that guy.   Part of my limited charm is that I’m a little rumpled (at least that’s what I tell myself).  I don’t mind sweating a little bit and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty when it is required.

For the last 20 years or so I directed a marching band.  I did it unconventionally.   What is interesting though is that my students didn’t know it was unconventional.  For most of them it was the only marching band they were ever in, and they believed that the way we did it was the way that marching bands worked.    I always told student teachers and other observers that “my way” wasn’t better or worse than any other way of going about it, but it was my way.  My way was sometimes messy.

My days are now devoted to studying and implementing teacher leadership in my school district.  I spend a considerable amount of time hoping that our teacher leadership work will be smooth and seamless, but the reality is that teaching and leadership are almost always messy work when they are done right.

Jim Collins, the author of the book “Good to Great,” says that great organizations must confront the brutal facts that face them.  Teachers face a variety of brutal facts each and every day.  As teacher leaders we must face the brutal facts and in many cases they are out of our control (time, money, resources, etc.).  What we can’t do is lose faith.   We have to believe that by confronting the brutal facts with a collective resolve to help students grow, that we will make our schools better.  Most of us in teacher leadership positions haven’t had much experience with coaching adults.  Many of us are developing and refining our leadership skills on the fly.  It isn’t that we haven’t been leaders, but we are trying to build, support, and refine a system that hasn’t included shared leadership in this way before.

The messiness of teacher leadership has been frustrating at times for me and for many of my colleagues.  It is in those moments of frustration that I remind myself what the first days of marching band camp looked and sounded like.  It was messy.   It was also when my students grew the most.  After we accepted that we had to start messy in order to grow is when we started to accomplish great things.  We couldn’t improve in isolation; it was only through collaboration and teamwork that we met our goals.  This is why it is important to embrace the messiness of learning as a team and do all we can to grow each day.

When the messiness of our work starts weigh on me, I remind myself that my students were able to look past my rumpled exterior and see that I had something to offer them.  I could look disheveled and our marching band could be unconventional and messy at times, but we believed in each other and we cared about getting better.  If all of us in our schools presume positive intentions, are honest with each other, and remember that our work is all about helping students grow, our results will be unimaginable.




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