Nothing like the simple title “My Teacher Leader Manifesto” to catch my attention, especially if the author was my friend Sandy Merz. I clicked on the link, read, “Teacher is the pinnacle title of civilization because teaching is society’s foundational activity,” and was hooked. Sandy went on to enumerate the governing principles by which he tries to live when speaking from his position of experienced teacher and leader in the profession, and then invited other people to join in. I deliberately skimmed past his list so it wouldn’t unduly influence me, and decided to take him up on his challenge.
For the record, I don’t really think of myself as a leader in the profession, but at age 55 and with nearly 30 years of full-time teaching and four years of teaching assistantships behind me, I certainly qualify as experienced. At any rate, as I engage in professional dialogue and advocacy, whatever the medium, here are the principles by which I try to live.
(1) Seek nuance. Because most situations are more complex than they appear at first, especially when looking not just at individuals but also at the larger cultural context(s).
(2) Seek multiple perspectives. Because I know no better way to get a sense of nuance, nor to understand the people with whom I’m engaging, nor to understand the cultures which may have shaped different people, nor to understand human nature itself.
(3) Seek to understand. Because without understanding, everything is quite literally meaningless.
(4) Seek to connect. With people. Other people to each other. With ideas. Ideas to ideas.
(5) Seek to speak to what I know. Avoid assumptions to the best of my ability. And when I’m unclear on a concept, either look it up or shut up. Because my integrity is what I make of it.
(6) Seek to elevate other voices. Because the moment I make it about myself is the moment I start missing the point. And because I can’t ignore the privilege I’ve historically been awarded.
(7) Seek to facilitate growth, in myself and in others. Because if I demonstrate a willingness to listen and grow, people are more likely to follow suit when engaging with me, and we’ll all be able to keep working together to build a better world.
(8) Keep “respect and dignity for all human beings” as an inviolate foundational principle. Because without love, I am nothing.
Once I came up with my own initial list (exactly as presented here), I went back to check Sandy’s. He included three important items (his original numbers in parentheses) that were not on my list but which should have been:
(5) Appeal to adversaries, many of whom are teachers, in a spirit of understanding, compromise, and reconciliation.
(6) Correctly characterize my adversaries and their views and support the fair airing of their opinions
(9) Be human first by caring for my family and health before all else
In point of fact, the first item on my Twitter profile, by design, is “My family comes first.” and I try very hard to live up to that most important of ideals. As for politely and fairly engaging with people who have differing opinions from me, I would hope that is implied by my own principles, but I think it’s worth highlighting because seeking a wide diversity of views and doing one’s best to always engage respectfully with people whether or not you agree with them is one of the best ways I know to learn.
There you have it. I’m @bivey on Twitter, and if you post a response to this, please let both Sandy and me know because we would both love to read it.