Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Slice of Life: Inclusive or Exclusive?

Book Fairies on Campus, Magic
I dress up everyday for spirit week. I love costumes. Any excuse I can find to wear a wig and glitter to work, I take. I should add that to my owner's manual. My principal sent out her owner's manual the first week of school. She'd gotten the idea from a friend, thought it a good one and shared. She gave me permission to share it with you. Here are a few excerpts:

Owner’s Manual

Rationale:  A friend told me about a great article in the Wall Street Journal about a hospital administrator in Massachusetts who wrote an “Owner’s Manual” so his new staff would know how to deal with him as he moved to a new position.  So, I put this together to give you an idea of what I am like.
  1. I am a sucker for enthusiastic, passionate, focused teachers who come to me with a need and a plan to help kids.  I try to find the money for worthy projects.
  2. You can change my mind.  If your way is better, I’m all for it. If you can’t change my mind, I’ll tell you why. 
  3. I’m tied to results- happy, successful students and teachers.  It’s my bottom line.
  4. Being positive and kind is the highest priority – results won’t happen any other way: People first.
  5. Some things are not negotiable.  For example:  district and state mandates must be adhered.  I may agree with your opinion that an action or decision is not necessary or right but sometimes we just have to be good soldiers and do as we are told.
  6. I prefer a work environment that is organized, clean, comfortable, and professional and gives all who enter positive “vibes”. 
When I reflect on  spirit week and the concerns raised by teachers, I can't help but reflect on my principal's owner's manual. Item seventeen on her list reads, "I am exactly as I appear. I don’t have time for hidden agendas. I will assume you don’t either." I am as I appear. I do not have an agenda at work beyond enjoy the students and support their growth as readers and writers, .

Several teachers eat lunch in my classroom. It's an open door lunch. If you want to come eat, you're welcome. Friends supply silverware; I often do the dishes and I always make space in the fridge for you. There is one rule: during lunch we do not talk about anyone who is not in the room. I brook no gossip. Some teachers embrace that, others reject it. It is what it is. Being honest or plain spoken makes my life better.

Spirit week planning often happens in the rush of lunch. At a friend's invitation, we had a crowd of Book Fairies and Super Teachers this year. The crowd bothered others in our English department. Some claimed  it was okay when it was just a few of us, but the crowd had grown. Why wasn't everyone informed? I offered a solution and am holding a Book Fairy making session after school one day--just in time for Halloween (don't worry I'll post pictures and directions if you'd like to make your own). It's a solution we came to together. We'll see what happens or who takes me up on the invitation.

How do you include others? Can we be unintentionally exclusive? Do some people participate all of the time and others just when it is convenient? What does relationship mean in the work place? With whom do you have relationships at school? How do those relationships inform your work?

I've been thinking about these issues quite a bit this week as a couple members of our English department approached me and said they felt left out of the spirit week costuming plans.Inclusive or exclusive, cliquish or welcoming, these are important issues in an English department, in a work place. I don't believe the teachers I eat lunch with ever intentionally exclude folks. We  talk to the people with whom we've built relationships. Building relationships is a two-way street.

Has someone sought you out by email or in person? Did you welcome them? Respond to their inquiry? Connect? Do you reach out to people? Do you spend time with other teachers at school to get to know them or build community? Is your time "me-focused" or "student-focused" only?

I don't have my whole owner's manual worked out yet, but I do have a few things that are non-negotiables in my world. Here are a few items from my rough draft:
  1. I don't talk about people behind their backs. If I need to have a hard conversation with you, I will. If I need to process something that happened between us before I come to you, I'll leave names aside as I work through it with my mentor, coach or husband. I don't triangulate
  2. I look for the good and try not to complain. Negativity is a virus; it's contagious (look at the research on mirror neurons). A friend once said I exude "rainbows and sunshine." I do. I enjoy being happy and celebrating the good in the world. Students, young people learning,  are a huge part of that good, but so are passionate, caring teachers. 
  3. If I say I'm going to do something I will. I will write it down. I will be there or deliver what I've promised. There is no need to ask me "if it's okay?" or "are you sure?" Once I've committed, I'm in. Constant rechecking or checking-in makes me wonder if you are unsure or not capable of completing your end of the matter. 
  4. I will always look for a solution. If you have a problem with a deadline, with a policy, with something I have said, talk to me. Solutions are always possible. 
  5. "Hurt people hurt people." I do not like or believe in sarcasm. I always try to speak directly, to say what I mean and mean what I say. If my message or intent is unclear, tell me.

I don't want the English department to be  cliquish or exclusive, but I also don't want individual teachers to deflect responsibility. Blaming others is easy--building relationships? Much tougher.


  1. First of all, I love the idea of an owner's manual. I'm going to start working on mine. What a fantastic idea!!!! Secondly, love the book fairies. I want to eat lunch with you people. Third, you can always have that open door policy, think you are being all-inclusive, and prevent gossip, but someone will always think you are leaving them out. You are right when you say that it is a two way street. Instead of pouting (and I'll bet they are pouting) about not being a part of spirit week, why not step up and say, "Hey, I'd like to be a part of this," I like that you are having a session in time for Halloween--I'm hoping that those who felt excluded show up. In the meantime, I'd like to be a book fairy, so I can't wait for the pictures and directions!

    1. Thanks, Deb. I love the owner's manual idea too--now to track down the original article in the paper. I'll get those directions and photos up the week of the 15th (it only takes an evening to make the wings, so you'll have plenty of time!)

  2. Love the idea of an owner's manual. I also loved how you worked that discipline video into the writing as well as the mirror neurons research! Keep spreading your magic and asking hard questions of yourself and others!

    1. Thanks, Beth. I think about those neurons everyday--now if I could get my facial expressions in line : )

  3. Lee Ann, you were much more detailed, but I wrote about building relationships today too, only put it into slowing down to make time for collegial conversations. I know we learn from our blogging friends and professional books & I have learned to value that very much, but I count on my conversations at work to help me learn and grow. Only those colleagues understand our school, our students and our philosophical beliefs, to be discussed often. Some choose not to participate; I don't know why. Perhaps it's more difficult for them to start friendships. I love your idea of an owner's manuel & putting it right out there for others. It might be a good thing for me to do in my position as coach. I have shared similar things like beliefs in working together for our common learning, but maybe the very idea of an 'owner's manuel' would be even more forthright. Thanks very much for this, & best wishes in your working these new English Dept. feelings out.

    1. Thank you, Linda. Those collegial conversations are so important and I count on them too--and you're right the people we see every day at school know our students, our school, our context best.

  4. I forgot-love the book fairies! We all dress up for Halloween, even many parents join us in the annual parade. Much fun.

  5. This was a rich slice. I work in an international school where the staff changes. Some years the community is bubbling with happiness and conversations, other years there is so much bitterness and silence. I haven't figured out whether the problems in a year make the atmosphere negative or is it the personalities. Sometimes there is safety in staying with the like-minded people. Maybe if all people came with an owner's manual it would be easier to figure them out. If people don't talk there are too many assumptions that can get on a way of relationship building. Your slice will keep me thinking for a long time.
    The book fairies made me smile.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Terje, The book fairies made me smile too. Your comments about community culture is interesting and familiar. I wish I could figure out if it's personalities or change or... there are so many factors. I too wonder what it is that determines the tone of a particular year.

  6. I love Spirit Week too!!! (Always have, from when I was a kid through now!) The Book Fairy idea sounds cute, and it sounds like something that just happened between a group of friends at lunch, not something to get offended about not being included in! The owner's manual is a really neat concept, and I bet the process of writing one is a fantastic exercise in introspection. I may have to try it! Your posts always leave me with lots of ideas spinning in my head, and this is no different! :-)

    1. Costumes are just magic. I think that's why I enjoy it so much--that and students' smiles. I'm glad I've left you with something to think about. That's how I always enter into these slices.