A guide through the dark forest

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“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve been reflecting on our modern western society lately.  What I’m about to write isn’t anything new; it isn’t anything we haven’t encountered before. However, I’ve faced some of these characteristics of our society and witnessed many friends and colleagues face these characteristics at great distress to their emotional and mental state.  Today I am writing about the tendency to ignore facts and instead to trust perception.   Colbert’s quote at the beginning of this post is right on the money. “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

In education, teachers and administrators are usually the type of people who live and die by facts.  After all, one of our main duties is to teach students facts and to help them use these facts to influence the world in which they live.  This is why it is difficult for those of us in education to face criticism from others that are based on nothing more than perception.  The educator inside of us wants to shout out with a thunderous cry: “But here are the facts!” Yet these cries are often perceived (yes, that ‘perception’ word is sneaking its way in with a different permutation) as defensive, dismissive, or they are completely disregarded.

I have had to help my fellow educators with this, when a parent perceives that the teacher is “mean” or that they are not teaching standards based lessons.  The reality/fact is that the teacher is not mean, and that they are doing their job in an exemplary manner. The teacher knows this, as the administrator I know this, however the parent perceives this to not be the case despite the facts that provide evidence.

Over the years I have had teachers in my office in near tears when I have to share with them what the perceptions are of some of the parents about them.  Its biting to have someone criticize you.  Its even more biting when that criticism comes about something you are deeply passionate about and to which you give your heart and devoted time.

They are not alone in this. I too have faced similar crisis of perception from time to time. It stings. Yet the fact that I have faced similar situations or situations that are much heavier often helps in our discussion.  I am able to share my experiences, my pain, my frustrations that no matter how much I give there will always be some who wish to see darkness in the forest rather than light and hope. I believe it helps the teacher understand that they are not alone. I try to bolster their self image and devise strategies to help improve the perception so that it more closely resembles reality.

One of the hardest things I have to say and explain is that while perception is not reality, the perception of the parent is the parent’s reality.  We have to address it and cannot ignore it hoping that they will change their mind.  We will not always be successful; some people have their mind set and they do not want to leave the darkness of the forest.  However, sometimes people are looking for a guide to help walk them through the darkness and to lead them to the sunny brooks and glens that warm the heart and mind. Its difficult to be the guide when you are perceived as something in the darkness. Yet, this is exactly what we must attempt to accomplish.

I do not write this post to complain.  Instead, I write it for my colleagues so that they know that they are not alone.  Hamlet said it best, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  We are in the profession of thinking.  As much as it pains us, lets work through our hurt feelings and help change the thinking so that all understand the good that we are constantly doing in our classrooms and schools.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.  What strategies have you used to help change a misplaced negative perception? What advice do you have for those of us in the trenches pushing ever forward to help our students?

Stand for the Impossible

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Buttercup: “We’ll never survive.”

Westley: “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

-The Princess Bride

It is now June.  Students, teachers, and administrators are all feeling the weight of a full year of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth.  The visceral experience is often one of fatigue and pessimism, which tends to cloud our judgment and make us long for the highly anticipated summer break.  This is a time when we are called upon to complete the heaviest of workloads (graduations, grades, test scores, cleaning classrooms, evaluations, annual reports, the usual day-to-day… ad nauseam).    It is easy to get lost in the morass of routine and drudgery; it is easy to forget how to take a moment to recharge your internal power core.

This is my moment of self-reflection, one I find necessary to undertake in order to help re-focus my attention on the mission at hand: supporting my teachers and helping all students grow so that they may be successful in life. I am sharing this reflection with you in the hopes that you may find some benefit from my thoughts.  Recent events have caused me to take a serious pause to examine who I am as a person, what my purpose is within education, and (on a grander scale) in life.

Let me be frank; in this pause I have come to no set conclusion for personal aspirations that have been, continue, and may always be out of reach.  However, I have never been one to settle for outright negativity.  The impossible is something that I strive for every day, because it is only through our attempts to achieve the impossible that it may come to pass. I do not believe we should pursue foolish goals.  However, when a goal is noble and desire outweighs logic and reason, then even the most daunting of obstacles should be challenged.   These juggernauts of jabberwockian jeopardy challenge the will and make us sometimes accept the current reality as all that will ever exist.  We cling to the comfort of our own self-imposed prisons of monotony and misery because the fear of facing the unknown, as Hamlet once said, “puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  This is where I find myself.

This respite of reflection culminates in my reaffirmation of my desire to seek out a world in which we are all better for taking on the challenges that face us on a daily basis. I will not stand idly by and wait for fate to dole out the meager parcels of paltry pratfalls that it believes is our destiny.  Instead, I am going to do the one thing, I have always done when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle; I am going to pick up these broken bones of mine and face the challenge of obtaining what I want with renewed vigor. It may take more than a lifetime, but that will not stop me, because the goal is noble, the cause worth sacrifice.  The realization of the goal leads us on a path toward a better life and prosperity for all.  It is time we face our fears and leave the comforts of a system that was not designed for us or for our century.

If you, like me, find yourself facing the doldrums either personally or professionally, I ask all of you who read this blog to take a moment during this tumultuous time of year and pause to power the core of your Jaeger so that in tandem we can face the kaijus that stand in the way of happiness (watch Pacific Rim if you do not get this reference). Remember, “Fortune favors the brave, dude.”

It is easy to feel like Buttercup in the opening quote of this post: “We’ll never survive.”   It is much more difficult to develop the overwhelming love and optimism that Westley espouses: “Nonsense.  You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”  Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to try to be a little more like Westley. I know that, beginning today, I am going to do my best to develop his optimism. Just because everyone else has died before us, doesn’t mean that we will suffer the same fate.  It is our dedication and perseverance that will result in our obtaining that which we desire most.  It is our willingness to give everything that we are, that helps us to achieve the impossible.  And, as Captain Malcolm Reynolds once pointed out… doing the impossible “makes us mighty.”

So pick up your broken bones with me.  If you’re facing the challenge of pedagogical practices that are antiquated, you can change them.  If you are forced to give assessments that do not make sense, you can help those who take them feel better about their actual roles in life.  If you are reaching for anything that is beyond your grasp, you can eventually find it within your hand.  Let us make real change on the landscape of education.  Let us stand together and create an educational environment that reflects the needs of our future and not the realities of our past.

If we stand together, there may be hope after all.


Take a moment right now to reflect. What is that one impossible goal that is out of reach? What can you do to begin making it a reality? Can any of us here help you to stand and make that difference? I look forward to your comments.

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