On our recent visit to a West Coast client, K12 Insight led a series of focus groups to inform the development of a staff survey. Our goal during these sessions was to uncover areas of misunderstanding or discontent and then facilitate a constructive dialogue between district leadership and key stakeholders. Hearing the voices of teachers, administrators and support staff — and then weaving their issues into survey questions — guarantees that we’ve moved beyond superficial pleasantries into authentic conversation.
In practice, this process can be a bit involved, even heated. Teachers — beset by volatile swings in funding, shifting federal and state program mandates, high turnover in district leadership and the pedagogy ‘du jour’ — bring their grievances to the focus group. I can’t blame them for being more than a little on edge. But once one participant unloads their burdens, the discussion can devolve into blame-shifting and careen off course.
One session I witnessed teetered precariously on the edge of this rabbit hole when an elementary teacher named Cassandra decided she’d heard enough. Fed up with the negativity, Cassandra said, “We can’t control the actions of others, but we can control how we react to them. We teach because we love these kids . . . acronyms change and programs change but strategies don’t. Just do good teaching.”
She concluded: “We own it.”
As Cassandra’s words sunk in, the “adult issues” — which generated such anger and frustration a moment before — were brought back into perspective. Participants reconnected with the reasons they chose public school education in the first place. Yes, the push/ pull of workplace politics is as traumatic in our school districts as it is anywhere else, maybe more so. But it’s heartening to hear this one teacher’s overriding commitment to her students’ success.
We should all heed Cassandra’s words. Because it’s time to stop passing the buck and start owning it.