Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader

What If?

A few weeks ago I read the blog post “If” by an educator I admire, David Culberhouse http://dculberh.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/if/  I have read, favorited, organized, archived, and retweeted several posts lately which have inspired me or made me think, but “If” is one I keep coming back to.

In his post David introduces the simple word… “If, the Great Qualifier”  He explains…

  • “If allows us not to be all in…it is an incredibly safe word. It is the antithesis of risk. If is a safety net. And we use it constantly at our places of work, with our families, and it even weaves its way into our prayers. It makes everything we do safe and risk-free.
  •  “If, the Great Qualifier” is the controller of the disrupters and the maintainer of the status quo… Too often, the “ifs” are all conditions beyond the school’s control, conditions that ultimately release the educators from responsibility for their students’ learning.”

I have heard too many “If’s” in my career and many of them sound like the ones David highlighted:

  • “yes, all kids can learn…if the students want to learn…if the parents are supportive…if our school had more resources…if the district, state, and national policymakers would stop hampering our efforts.”

My commitment as a leader this year is to push back on the “IF’s” with “WHAT IF’s”…

When I hear someone say IF?  I am going to respond with WHAT IF?   WHAT IF helps us see the possibilities; it helps us move from negative thinking to positive thinking.  WHAT IF has the ability to inspire and to motivate.  WHAT IF helps us dream and create a vision.  WHAT IF is powerful!  I envision that this year some of my responses to “IF” might look sound like this…

WHAT IF we believed every child could learn at advanced levels?

WHAT IF we believed that every child was capable of meeting challenging learning objectives?

WHAT IF we believed every child wanted to learn?

WHAT IF we believed every child had unique and valuable gifts and talents?

 WHAT IF we believed every child were a critical thinker, a creative innovator, and a dynamic communicator?

WHAT IF we believed every parent was doing their best to support their child?

 WHAT IF we believed every parent wanted their child to go to college and be successful?

 WHAT IF we believed every time a parent confronted us with a complaint it was because they had the best interests of their child at heart?

 WHAT IF we believed that every parent wanted to partner with us to do what is best for their child?

WHAT IF we believed every teacher was exceptional and was committed to doing what was best for students?

WHAT IF we valued every teacher as a professional and gave them a voice in decision-making?

WHAT IF we believed that every teacher was a learner willing to take risks and try new things in the best interest of students?

WHAT IF every time we had new information that told us a student was struggling we responded with timely interventions and WHAT IF we committed to learning new ways of intervening when everything we tried didn’t work?

WHAT IF we believed that the administrators working at the National, State, and District levels had the best intentions for students at the heart of their decisions, policies and mandates?

WHAT IF we assumed positive intentions every time a colleague or a parent said or did something?

The list goes on…

As leaders, we are responsible for cultivating the culture in our districts and at our sites.  We have to help each member of our team build a sense of efficacy  –  they need to know for certain that the choices they make each day have a profound impact on students and their learning.  When administrators consider their teachers to be exceptional, teachers excel.  When teachers believe every child in their classroom is capable of achieving great things, students excel.  We have to have high expectations for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students, and we have to believe they can and want to meet them.

When we have a sense of efficacy, we accept responsibility for learning, teaching, and leading; we don’t place blame on others.  When we have a sense of efficacy and are faced with challenges – we don’t qualify them with “IF”… we find ways to get better with “WHAT IF”?

 

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