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Sane Educators = A Good Strategy

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If you settle on the idea that the point of schools is the long-term flourishing of kids, you get to explore all kinds of interesting territory — in your own practice and in your teams (department, PLC, school). The opportunities for earnest and amicable professional arguments — loaded, of course, with paraphrasing and evidence and encouragement and respect — are manifold.

You get past moral grandstanding — “Listen, I'm just advocating for what's best for kids” — because we're all on moral, perhaps even sacred, ground. Investing in the long-term flourishing of young people is a timeless good, in every age and place.

So this inarguable philosophy opens up all manner of direction. And that, of course, can yield chaos. So if I may, let me give two additional guidelines.

First, your strategy must create and sustain sane educators. If a school's strategy for promoting the long-term flourishing of kids leads to persistent teacher burn-out and attrition, then the school needs to fix the strategy. It's not going to work. I've visited schools or teacher groups in 25 states so far, and what I consistently find is that long-term teacher flourishing is a strong predictor of long-term student flourishing. The good thing about long-term flourishing is that it's not zero sum. You don't need a school filled with the best teachers or “teachers of the year” — you need a school filled with great teachers and great team players.

Sustainable greatness in teaching needs to be sanely, wisely, stolidly, and repetitively pursued, studied, and discussed. The best kind of leaders for creating long-term flourishing movements in schools are the ones whose eyes are constantly on sustainable, long-term improvement. I've seen these kind of people operating near and far from my own placement here in West Michigan. It's amazing how this type of leadership requires not a certain personality or skillset — rather, it requires wisdom, humility, and clarity. To those leaders, we all owe coffee or beer or books or cards.

Second (and as a follow-up to my first point), your strategy has to involve focus. This is what These 6 Things was meant to put forth. The book is just one proposal for what it might look like to pursue the long-term flourishing of kids (and teachers) at the whole-school (or team or department) level. It's not the only way to focus as an entire school, but it's one way. We probably need more macro-strategies like this.

If long-term flourishing requires schools filled with super-teachers who pursue perfection in all things, then we'll continue to see the unequal distribution of long-term flourishing outcomes in the United States. There aren't enough super-teachers — meaning folks willing to be the person in the Hollywood movie who sacrifices their every waking moment on the altar of teaching success — to fill the 3.5 million teaching positions of this country, especially when you consider how quickly folks like that tend to leave the profession.

The strategy, then, has to change. We've got to work a heck of a lot smarter.

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