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Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can't be the Tail that Wags the Dog!

Years ago during a charged exchange, an administrator commented that I couldn't be the tail that wags the dog.

That statement and few more that essentially told me to shut up worried me at that time. Later via a number of actions, that message was sent with greater clarity and gravity. I was warned and punished.

After that event, I attended a union event that essentially said that it's common for those with new ideas or critique to be silenced by the status quo. And as David Culberhouse regularly notes, new ideas are not usually welcome with open arms, but instead pushed away, silenced, criticized.

So what's a teacher to do?

I don't believe that any individual can be the "tail that wags the dog," but instead it takes all of us to do the good work possible. When any stakeholder is left out of the equation of decision making and good work, the result typically does not meet the potential possible.

The surprise to all this is that when you openly and transparently invite commentary, collaboration, and opinion, you'll typically only hear from those that have a stake in the matter. Those for whom the situation is removed or uninteresting, will not speak up or get involved. People tend to self select around issues of interest, capacity, and contribution. So it's not what some would think which is if I ask everyone, I'll be inundated with responses, but instead what happens is typically a small group of very interested and capable individuals will come forth to lead the charge. Obviously with regard to issues of great appeal, it will take greater process to get to the smaller groups of people in charge, and those small groups will rightly reach out to the greater community using good process to lead their work.

When I was first told this comment, I wish I had responded with more questioning such as the following:

  • Do you believe stakeholders should have a voice? Why or why not?
  • How do you believe stakeholders should use their voices? What vehicles exist for this?
  • How can I develop my voice in ways that matter and find a foothold here since I am deeply committed to the work?
Now what many articles and people say is that underlings like me should elevate their leaders by contributing to their reputation and effect in positive ways, but not expecting any acknowledgement or recognition. Essentially making your boss successful, makes you successful. I have colleagues and know others who do this well, and in return they get a lot of privilege and kudos. They quietly and humbly do the work with little speaking up or advocacy for change. When they do speak up they follow the channels that exist in quiet, measured ways. I see both good and not-so-good in this action. The good lies in their measured dedication and respect. The challenge lies in the fact that they are willing to allow some areas of disrespect and lost potential exist without their support and advocacy.

In general, I feel like the "boost your boss" approach lies in old time patriarchal models of hierarchy and leadership rather than new age collaborative, team approaches where rather than "boosting the boss," the team boosts the effect of teamwork and effort--the result, rather than the boss, sits center stage of the work.

I am willing to engage in debate over this and will be learning more about it. I'm open to your commentary as I think of the fact that I sometimes can be seen and labeled as "the tail that wags the dog," and I'm wondering about that professional position.