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Be Open

“Education is cyclical, the same professional development always comes around again.” “Don’t worry about this initiative, there will be a new one next year.” “The person who came up with this policy will only be here another 6 months, let’s just ride it out.” If you work in education, you have either heard or spoken one of the above statements. Sometimes it is easy to get caught in the negative talk. However, when you approach everything from the perspective that it won’t last or it won’t work, you will never grow.

*This video contains graphic language*

Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) has enlisted in the United States Army. Here we see him going through boot camp as an exemplary soldier. When asked what his sole purpose in the army is, he responds, “To do whatever you tell me drill sergeant.” The drill sergeant is blown away by this answer. So much so that he calls Private Gump “a genius” and “gifted.”

In the second scene Private Gump is asked another question, “Why did you put that weapon together so quickly Gump?” Gump’s simplistic response is, “You told me to drill sergeant.”

Forrest Gump’s trust in the United States Army, and his commanding officers, enables him to have a successful military career and earn the Medal of Honor.

Is the takeaway that every principal should do exactly what the superintendent says? Every teacher should blindly follow their principal? Every student needs to take a teacher’s word as gospel? Absolutely not. This is an oversimplified example of the benefits of trust. That is the beauty of Forrest Gump. The movie tackles a lot of challenging topics through the simplistic perspective of Forrest.

Unfortunately, I believe that sometimes we have swung too far in the direction opposite of Forrest. We question. We dig our heels in. We gossip. We dispute. We complain.

If we ever want to break free from working at an average school and making average progress, it is imperative that we take risks. We cannot hope to eliminate achievement gaps and develop independent thinkers and conscious citizens by doing things the same way we always have.

But, people are comfortable with doing what they have always done. When we hear that we are trying something new or going in a different direction, we get scared. Scared because we don’t know what the results will be. Scared because it might take a little bit more work or force us to do more self-reflection.

And negativity is contagious. Nothing slows or stops an initiative faster than people openly, or behind doors, criticizing the new direction a school decides to take. Often, that pessimistic bandwagon seems a lot bigger, more comfortable, and entertaining than the optimistic one. The teachers who are willing to trust and try something different feel outnumbered and outmatched.

Imagine what a school could accomplish if the whole staff was open to new ideas and trusted each other to take risks. Not only could you create real change, you could breed innovation and creativity. Educators would be far more comfortable sharing ideas if they knew they would be received with support and passion.

Imagine what a classroom could accomplish if the students were open to new ideas and trusted each other to take risks. Not only could you create real change, you could breed innovation and creativity. Students would be far more comfortable sharing ideas if they knew they would be received with support and passion. (See what I did there).

It is about changing our mindset so that instead of discounting any new idea, we embrace it. Not every initiative is going to be successful. But, we will never be successful if we confine ourselves to the comfort of what we have always done. Hey, it worked for Forrest.

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