Tune Out the Noise
By Dustin LeMay
Avon Intermediate West
Doctoral Student of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
The profession of education has a lot of noise right now -- Politicians expounding on the failures of our education system; school systems reacting to changes in funding structures and referendum failures; even new laws regulating teacher evaluation and the re-structuring of compensation models. All this is occurring while teachers are unfairly characterized in the media, not accorded the respect of years past.
Even more troubling is the fact that schools and teachers are held accountable for standardized test scores and academic growth using a complicated mathematical formula that creates winners and losers in a competition, borne potentially of a manufactured crisis, decades prior.
With distractions abound, we believe that those of us who wish to thrive in education today have two clear choices:
1. Complain about the changes and negativity, thus making ourselves miserable and unmotivated (and a part of the larger problem) or …
2. Challenge ourselves to make a new reality by tuning out the noise.
Our choice is clear.
We would encourage yours similarly – We must to find a way to tune out the noise.
Yet, what exactly does that mean? Have a positive attitude? Don’t worry, this too shall pass? Ignore your job and move to a tropical island? None of these bits of advice hits the mark exactly.
Tuning out the noise means instead, absorbing the new facts, regulations, and circumstances that are rolling downhill continually, using them to carefully construct a new reality within the profession of each school building and each classroom.
Yes, tuning out the noise involves harnessing the energy directed AT us, toward something meaningful that we have an ability to influence.
Sounds good, right?
Well, it can be, if accomplished without the over-reactions and complaints (the noise) that can quickly de-moralize a school staff … it can be, if accomplished through leadership that doesn’t look for internal cohesion by identifying an external enemy.
Most of all, we can tune-out the noise in education, or at least turn-it-down to “tolerable,” levels through school-wide, staff-wide commitment to five simple actions that can pave the way to success. To tune-out the noise, we can:
1. Focus on What Can Be Controlled: We can control our attitudes, our effort, and how we work together. Problems can’t always be controlled, but focusing on the solutions helps get us there. Sometimes it may be necessary to vent a little -- after all, we are human. However, it is not ok to constantly perpetuate a culture of complaint. Consider that amidst the mandates and political banter, we CAN control, for example, how teachers are involved in the evaluation process, what we do with our data, how we listen to and support our stakeholder needs, and certainly, creating an environment that lets each of us know that we should have fun and laugh each day.
2. Work Smarter, Not Harder: Rick DuFour’s (2010) work with PLC’s has been around for a while now -- valuable work that speaks to the need for a continuous, collaborative process of ongoing school improvement. When teachers work in PLC’s, they define goals and expectations of each other. New sets of academic standards may feel, at times, like a load of work to teachers, but with the shared load that a true PLC process allows, teachers are able to break down the walls of isolation and establish an environment of shared leadership. These collective efforts reap even greater dividends than the sum of their parts.
3. Hold Ourselves Accountable for Best Practices, OVER Test Scores: We know we are accountable for standardized testing results. We may not like putting children in front of computer-screened assessments for hours on end, but these requirements do not appear to be going away any time soon. As we establish a culture of high expectations that maximizes instructional time, might we consider that in the long run, test results will take care of themselves – That is, if we address the needs of the whole-child-as-learner, as opposed to considering them as test-taker’s? As leaders we must empower teachers to focus on each child’s academic and social needs, as well as their own. We need to trust our teachers to be learners and leaders, and at times, to get out of their way. We need to be courageous enough to allow those closest to the teaching and learning to implement what is best for children, not what is best for individual employees or test scores.
4. Focus First on People: Educators who are on the firing line make personal sacrifices each day to uplift student performance. Oftentimes, this is at the expense of our loved ones and family, as we take far less time for ourselves than we took years ago. Sometimes, it is at the expense of our own health, as continuing education requirements, year-round calendars, performance pressures, and technology demand that we “Never turn it off,” subordinating wellness to program, process, and performance expectation. In light of such, can we keep in mind each and every day to consider our colleagues first as people, then as co-workers? Can we strive to treat others equitably, not equally? In such, we may be a bit more energized in spite of the noise, and better able to serve students.
5. Commit to Two-Way Communication: That includes administrators’ listening to and trusting teachers’ and staffs’ professional input. On the flip side, it means teachers’ and staffs’ respecting administrative decisions and following through with them. A true team focuses on working together toward a common vision. At minimum, this means that on our most challenging days, we don’t point fingers and blame. In our most arduous hours, we come together for support. When circumstances collide, we put in the work that let’s each of us know that tomorrow will be a better day. We talk to each other, and play to our strengths, winning battles and saving lives.
By establishing and sticking to our five key actions, we can lay a foundation of success that empowers each of us to tune out the noise and build successful school environments for our students, teachers, and families.
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for Professional learning communities at work (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Dustin LeMay and Ryan Donlan work each day to tune-out their own noise so that they can listen to folks’ charting courses for improvement of our K-12 educational system, toward a better tomorrow. If you wish to dial up your own volume and be part of the conversation, please be encouraged to write to them at [firstname.lastname@example.org] or at email@example.com. These two wish to learn from others that have workable actions of their own.