This afternoon, I heard them again – the researchers – presenting findings on student engagement in schools. This time, they spoke as part of a public radio interview and sketched out not only their findings- that students were not engaged and were not being challenged – but also their recommendations. What a surprise to discover well meaning practices had proven ineffective. Like it or not, we have been wasting everyone’s time. Staying this course would be piping vital life force into a failing enterprise. Besides, kids said they were bored!
Recommendations like these, delivered with messianic zeal, come from a deep well of good intention. Imagine the roving researcher, caught on tape, tucking a clipboard under her arm, leaning into the wind, and heading forward to save me from myself – if only she could get the right findings into the right hands, another mistake might be prevented and another life might be saved.
I admit that I do need the help. But I live in that gray area between the golden glow of what ought to be and the tattered realm of what is. In my profession – education – everyone wants to offer advice. But the glow of the offer is not an assurance of its utility. If help offered is to become help applied, what kind of conversation needs to take place with the man (or woman) in the middle?
How about a bit of a fairy tale to clarify:
There once was a village where plumbing was old and crumbling. Knowledgeable ones discovered the severity of the problem and presented their findings and recommendations to the town mayor. But, scarce funds and other emergencies ensured that the mayor took no action. Then one Sunday morning, pipes burst. For days raw sewage flowed through the town’s streets, stinking up just about everything. Those with knowledge looked from their balconies and tsk-tsked the situation. We told you so they said. Villagers, seeing that they could not ignore the mess, asked these sages to help with digging up the pipes and sandbagging in front of doors. No was the answer. That’s not our role. You will have to figure out solutions all on your own.
So, thanks for the input. Now, how can you help? That’s the re-organizing question that needs to drive how we measure the measurers. Whether your advice results in impact – and whether you are willing to participate in bringing about the change you seek – That’s a model that long ago fell into disuse as folks detached themselves from an obligation to the health of the whole.
Help me by standing where I am standing. Standing with me to work among the riddles I am facing. Can you sing in my key, dance in my shoes, and mix it up with this kind of game? If I ask whether you can feel me, can you give me a clear yes? Call me out if you need to. Push me when I need it. Challenge me to help me grow. Make me be my better-than-best. But stand with me by walking my walk. And don’t let me catch you looking for a quick way out.