“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seeds of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
“Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.”
Last night’s Metro Nashville Public School’s board meeting was an abhorrent display that should embarrass all of us. I try and instill in my children that making a mistake is not the defining moment, but rather what you do with the mistake. Last night, the MNPS board decided that when others go low, it will go even lower.
Yes, Ms. Speering made a mistake when she sent out an email encouraging folks to protest Dr. Joseph and offering them the option to wear masks if they were scared for their jobs. It should be made clear that she did not instruct people to come in masks, but rather offered masks as a solution if supporters felt fear of retaliation. That’s an important designation and one that has been lost in the escalating rhetoric.
Dr. Joseph and board leadership had an opportunity to use the misstep as a teachable moment. After all, these are educators we are talking about. Instead, they chose to use the moment to bludgeon Ms, Speering and fellow board members who oppose Dr. Joseph. They tried to use her words to destroy a 40 plus year record of service to MNPS and link her to a hate-filled organization like the Ku Klux Klan
“I’m not sure if Ms. Speering internally made the connection between the masked protest she encouraged today and those of yesteryear’s held by the KKK but I did,” said Metro School Board Vice Chair Christiane Buggs.
Buggs had the opportunity to convey her disappointment to Speering privately in the days leading up to the meeting but instead chose the public stage to deliver her remarks. It’s not the first time Buggs has shown a propensity to use such inflammatory language toward political opponents. Upon the election of President Trump, she tweeted out names that she had heard for him and planned to adopt. Names like: Cheeto Satan, Habanero Hitler, Dreamsicle Demon, Tangerine Voldemort, Sunkist StalinNacho Nazi, Fanta Fascist, Squirrelwig McRacistpants, El Hombre de Tang, Don the Con,Trumplethinskin, Candy Corn Kremlin. The backlash against Buggs was harsh and one would have thought it might have taught her a little more compassion, alas apparently not.
Some took to social media to further attempt to discredit Speering because she was not in attendance at last night’s board meeting. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that all aren’t aware that Speering recently had open heart surgery. She attended all committee meetings during the day. My supposition is that she chose to protect her health and decide to go home instead of facing a hostile crowd. That’s not cowardice, that is just good sense.
Leadership is a lot like MAP testing, it’s an intuitive assessment. What that means is that you start off with a challenge that is perceived to be at your level. How you answer that challenge determines whether you move on to harder challenges or not. Get the question right and the assessment continues. Get too many challenges wrong and the assessment ends. Last night was a leadership challenge for Dr. Joseph. One that will not lead to the next level.
How different would today look if instead of calling out fraternity brothers – many who don’t live in the district – and the clergy to support him, Dr. Joseph had just stepped to the microphone and said, “I got this. I welcome you, but I urge you to come in support of our students and families. Jill Speering and I disagree on virtually everything and we are very passionate people. Some times passion leads to miscalculation, but I don’t believe that Ms. Speering’s message had any racial connotations and I certainly don’t believe she was trying to hold a Klan rally outside. We all need to be more sensitive with our words and continue to try and have more cultural awareness in considering the potential impact of those words.”
Instead, he chose to respond in an emailed statement,
“A call to wear masks in public reminds many citizens of a particularly dark time in our country’s history,” Joseph said ahead of the meeting. “Nashville is better than this. We need to set a better example for the students, families and staff members who are watching.”
On the way to school today my 8-year-old son asked me if he could read me his favorite quote from the book he’s reading, The One and Only Ivan. I said, “Sure.”
Here is what he read me,
“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”
Out of the mouths of babes. The irony that this school board meeting was transpiring at exactly the same time as President Trump was addressing the nation is not lost on me. Joseph likes to quote the words of Obama, while continually employing the strategies of Trump. Both Trump and Joseph, run on the fuel created out of divisiveness and neither has proven particularly competent at their job.
I plan to write more about this week’s board meeting on Friday after I’ve taken time to reflect a little more on the proceedings and I want to watch the meeting again to make sure I actually heard everything I thought I heard. I do want to leave this portion of the program with the words from a long time MNPS educator. These words were texted to me after last night’s board meeting and were among many I received from Nashville educators. I sure hope everybody that claims they are all about the children listens to them and takes heed.
I’m so embarrassed and mortified by the meeting tonight that I would leave MNPS tonight if I had another job. What a fucked up meeting. The board is irreparably destroyed.
Remember, it’s not the mistake that’s important, it’s what you do with it afterward that counts. There is still time to make it right.
AND NOW A WORD FOR THE STATE
I’ve often stated that the best part of writing this blog is the opportunity it gives me to meet incredible educators. One of those educators is Paul Doyle. Dr. Paul Doyle served in the Metro-Nashville Public School System for 27 years from classroom teacher to principal, to the district’s ombudsman, and HR director. He then moved to Paris, Tennessee and became Superintendent of Schools for the Paris Special School District. He retired several years ago to start his own business, Purposeful Leadership LLC. He has served as adjunct faculty for numerous colleges and universities over a 30 year period. He currently works with Middle Tennessee State University in that capacity, and for many years was a regular trainer for Tennessee Academy of School Leaders. One thing I didn’t know, is that Doyle was on the short list to be acting MNPS Superintendent back in 2008.
Paul wrote something recently that I think is extremely relevant as the 2019 state legislative session is set to open. He’s graciously allowed me to share it here. So with no further ado, I present it to you.
The ideas expressed here are clearly opinions of mine, not to be confused with the Gospel, and are shared with peace and love.
I recently read with a mixed sense of interest and sad humor the article by former education commissioner, Candice McQueen,
” These are four ways the state of education is changing in Tennessee”
I thought it odd for her to be discussing how Tennessee education will be changing while she was on her way out. It’s implied that we will continue building on the stellar work she initiated as commissioner. Not one time during my reading did I find a single word regarding “teacher support”. But I must admit, I wasn’t surprised. My hope is that the next administration will find ways to relieve teachers of the burdensome busy work that compromises their actual interaction with students.
As a career educator who served public education as a substitute teacher , school district superintendent, and practically everything in between, I find it disheartening that teachers are strapped with responsibilities beyond ordinary comprehension. This is not another piece about teachers having to serve as parents, psychologists, counselors, etc. I’m referring to the mountains of needless paperwork. The teachers I talk with continue to complain about not having the time to adequately address the needs of their students. Most of us, well, many of us agree that relationships matter when it comes to our students. It takes a long time to develop that relationship and trust with each student. It takes time researching, thinking, observing, listening, reflecting, and planning. I also spend a good deal of my time today working with graduate students. I am amazed and somewhat overwhelmed when I hear them discuss what their districts’ and states demand of them in terms of lesson planning, and multiple forms of assessments and other documentation.
To be clear when it comes to assessment, except for extreme cases of obvious patterns of poor performance, results should be used to improve instruction, not to rank teachers. I thought we had learned this lesson long ago with the Career Ladder program under Lamar Alexander. Principals are responsible for their teachers in terms of professional growth and support as well as evaluations. Today, we equip them with multiple tools for assessment, rubrics, student test scores, and layers of bureaucratic paperwork. Most of these things are put in place to help the gutless administrator. They do very little to help the teacher. If you don’t have confidence that principals can decide how best to evaluate their teachers then fire them and put someone more competent in place.
When I was a teacher, the State purchased textbooks and materials from vendors after strict review from teachers and other district stakeholders. We chose materials that matched our needs in terms of lesson planning and tools that helped us meet State requirements. Our books had our lesson planning provided, and our district had curriculum experts that helped us develop strategies. We did expect our teachers to modify their plans to meet the needs of their students. Today our expectations are so much higher. We expect teachers to individualize lessons for each student, and develop elaborate lesson plans, tools and strategies to meet those needs and jump through multiple hoops.
We have handcuffed the minds and brain power of our professionals. They no longer have the autonomy to make their own decisions. They use their own ideas and expertise complying to rules that make little sense to them. They jump through hoops. They are data saturated instead of data driven. They are teachers, thank God, and not politicians. They will continue to find ways to subvert the system instead of complying. And I don’t blame them. We did the same thing.
So I ask of the new administration, use some common sense please. Stop allowing ignorant politicians to drive the education bus. Teachers need and deserve your support. Involve them in all decisions that will affect them. Listen intently to what they have to say, and the act based upon their best ideas. Build the next state team with mature, experienced servant leaders. Expect them to have a servant’s heart and if they prove not to, then replace them. Know that your job as leaders is to serve and support. Be that person(s) you were many years ago when you were a teacher. Find that place in your mind and heart and operate from that feeling, motivation, love, and inspiration. Disempower politicians and bean counters, and EMPOWER teachers. They know what to do. Let’s allow them to do it with the absence of threat, and the presence of support and appreciation.
That’s a wrap. Thank you again to Paul Doyle. See you on Friday where we will take an even deeper look into what transpired last night.
In the meantime, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!