I grew up with deep Catholic roots. For me, the concept of reconciliation will forever be linked to the confession of sins. My oldest son recently made his first reconciliation and they encouraged parents to model the importance of reconciliation by confessing themselves. I'll admit, I've participated in confession (the religious kind, anyway) a whopping 4 times in my life: prior to my First Communion, prior to my Confirmation, the day before I got married (Epic sidebar, but I can't just gloss over this. The priest, who I'd never met because he was brand new to the church-- like week-old new-- just sat there in silence. He literally didn't say ANYTHING! So I just KEPT talking. For a really, really long time. I remember distinctly starting with the easy stuff -- uh, I'm mean to my brother, I haven't respected my father and mother. At 24 years old, I confessed that I'm mean to my brother, which is probably the same confession I made in 2nd grade. Crickets. Then I heard myself say, "And then I went to college..." Talk about a doozy! Meanwhile, poor Matt's just WAITING for me in the church. As we crossed paths for him to have his turn, he said, wide-eyed, "What did you SAY?! You were in there for 45 minutes!), and this most recent experience. The act of Reconciliation truly does feel like a weight is lifted. We carry our burdens with us, rarely finding the opportunity or invitation to set down the load. And then we're forgiven, wiped clean, and given the gift of trying to live a little better.
In that regard, reconciliation seems so completely positive. But in the school system, the act of reconciliation doesn't come nearly as easily. The challenge comes, I suppose, in that there is no promise that the load will be lightened, the burden removed. Sometimes the district's decisions do not mirror my beliefs. How can that be reconciled? Sometimes the team or a colleague sees something in an entirely different light and commits to forge a path I can't get behind. How can that be reconciled? Reconciliation becomes much more complicated. How can I hope to reach a state of harmony when ideologies are so at odds with one another?
School systems are so deeply committed to buy-in and team structures, but rarely is there discussion about one's own values and passions. At times, it feels like the philosophies and backgrounds teachers bring to the profession are muted, replaced for team norms, vision statements, collaborative planning, and common assessments. To be clear, I think those elements can be enormously beneficial. But how do we respond when a real issue of philosophy -- of belief-- is at odds with the group/district? When an argument is made -- a well-supported, researched, passionate argument-- is in direct contrast to the stance of the majority, how do we reconcile that? Do we set aside our beliefs for the good of collegiality and toil silently in bitterness? Do we raise Hell and refuse to back down, making for an ugly, polarized group dynamic? Do we nod in agreement, then retreat back to the sanctuary of our classrooms and do what we believe, in spite of the group's decisions? Here, reconciliation is decidedly harder and the attempt often creates a heavier burden, not a lighter one.
So I'm grappling. I'm trying to reconcile how the teacher can be true to her philosophies, even when the system in which (or colleagues with whom) she works harbor beliefs in contrast to hers. How can the teacher be a strong contributor and member of a team without sacrificing herself and her values about education?
As I do whenever a problem feels beyond me, I turn to the lessons around me for guidance. President Obama's Farewell Address couldn't have come at a better time. He was speaking about America, but, really he was simply speaking about people. He opened, "Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people ... are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going. Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man." If I'm being honest, this is true of the school system, if I let it be. It can make me better. I can learn from others, rather than discrediting their views simply because they are contrary to my own. Just as dissension made him a better President, so too can it make me a better teacher. Leading with this in mind will allow me reconcile with some of the elements I've interpreted to be divisive.
Perhaps most moving to me was his message about solidarity. Solidarity does not require uniformity. It does require us to recognize that all of us-- each with unique perspectives and values-- are in this together. I need to remind myself that we have a very important shared belief: we believe in the power of education to better the lives of our students. He talks about healthy debate: "We’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point ... we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible." I need to learn to frame discussion with a focus on those elements which unite us, not those which divide. I do believe that we are greater together than alone.
If I can celebrate the ideas and values of democracy in government, I should be able to do the same in education. I can set my ego aside. I can strive, uneven as it may be, to reconcile, eyes fixed on what matters most -- the students who wait before us -- alongside those who may hold very different viewpoints, but who believe as strongly as I do in the importance of doing our best for kids.