Interviewing teacher candidates for new positions in a school, I will always ask the question, “What areas do you believe that you can share with the staff to help them improve in their own practice?”
This question is imperative in the hiring process because I am looking for “school teachers” versus “classroom teachers.” School teachers do all of the things that a classroom teacher does, but they believe that within the school, all of the kids are their kids. They enjoy doing things like supervision because this is an opportunity to connect with students that they do not usually teach. They also look at what they can share with other staff (both giving and receiving) because in a school, it is not about egos and competition, but about collaboration. They believe that what they share with other staff members will help them become better teachers, ultimately helping students. Sharing does not make someone narcissistic. If it does, we should stop telling our kindergarten kids to do the same.
Talking to teachers that are now in school and talking to them about sharing through social media, a response that I often hear is, “I don’t really have anything of value to share.” My first thought is, “Why did someone hire you?” In reality, if someone believes that they have nothing of value to share, is school a place for them to be? Now take that same teacher, throw them in a job interview (where they need that job), and ask them if they have anything of value to share with staff. Do you think that they are really going to say the same thing?
So why the difference in the answer? A few reasons could be that they really don’t have anything to share (doubt it), they underestimate their own value (watch this Derek Sivers video to help get them over that notion), but more importantly, they are in a culture that frowns (either directly or indirectly) on sharing. The view is that the people that “share” are all about themselves (which, if you think about it, goes against the whole notion of sharing), or that anything of value would only come from an outside context.
Think about it … there are tons of teachers out there sharing awesome things on their blogs, great ideas to improve teaching, learning, and leading, yet how often does their OWN staff use their work as a basis for anything? Have we ever started with, “One of our staff wrote this fantastic post on __________, let’s all take a look at it and have a discussion.” A teacher’s blog often becomes their “dirty little secret” and something that is for the outside world only, not for their own staff.
Sorry to put it bluntly, but that is just stupid.
“My name is George, and I am a blogger. Please don’t tell my boss!”
In my role as division principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in a school district of 10,000 students, I open my Google Reader every morning and look first at what our teachers are doing and share their work with the world. I know that it is only a small gesture, and I probably miss a lot of ways that I can share, but I want others to see their expertise. I am proud of what our district does, as other leaders should be as well, which I am sure they are, but how do they share that. How do they go about moving away that the “sharers” are the narcissistic ones, but in most instances, the ones that just want to help others do what is best for kids. We have always been good at looking outside for experts; time to start doing a better job looking and promoting within.
Change the focus
So the next time I talk to a teacher and ask them, “What do you have to share,” I am going to perhaps ask, “What does your school do to promote the sharing of your expertise?”
The onus for sharing should not only be on the individual, but the culture of the school as well.
George Couros (@gcouros) is the division principal of innovative teaching and learning for the Parkland School Division. He is a leader in innovation and focuses on development of leadership and people to do what is best for kids. His mix of research, personal stories and practical ways to implement learning helps others feel comfortable in taking risks in their learning. You can learn more about Couros on his website.