I’m not sure why I’m struggling so much to get started on this one. I know I have plenty to say about the topic of “us versus them.” Maybe it’s a concern that I might offend someone or inadvertently reinforce the divide between administrators and teachers. Maybe it’s that I only have my experience, and thus only one perspective.
Well, here goes….
When I had the opportunity to move from a special education teaching position to a leadership role in a therapeutic day school, I was filled with hope for all that I might be able to change. I was driven by the frustrations and the disappointments that had been my prior experience of special education. As a teacher I often felt powerless and ill-equipped for all that the job asked of me. I did my best to seek support and to advocate for the needs of my students and staff, but I was left feeling hungry for a better way.
Entering the world of administration was not at all what I had envisioned. I came face to face with new challenges and a greater understanding of the broken education system. As a teacher my world was the classroom. Now as an administrator, my world was a school. The very problems that I faced as a teacher were magnified, and I was charged with finding the solutions.
First on my agenda: making space for teachers to feel heard. I had an open door policy and encouraged the staff to express their concerns directly. In the beginning, staff readily accepted the invitation. Perhaps, knowing about my experience in the classroom leveled the playing field.
I was somewhere between “us” and “them.”
Then, somewhere along the way, something changed. Fewer and fewer staff came to my door. I began to hear secondhand, third hand, fourth hand grumblings.
I became “them.”
How things shifted, I’m not certain. I just know that it felt terribly different. In a position of “power,” I now felt powerless to change the status quo.
Yet, I fought to regain that in-between status. I strived to be available and accessible to my staff. A few voices emerged from the grumbling, serving as advocates on behalf of the “us” group. At that point, I knew I would never regain my prior status.
I was “them.”
This “us versus them” mentality is a reality of human nature. We find our sense of belonging through shared groups, beliefs, and experiences. It is natural to cooperate more with your own group and to distrust or to oppose groups that are not your own.
I may be a dreamer, but I want something different. I want that place between the “us” and the “them.” I think we can all agree that the system is broken and that we want something different.
So, how can “we” solve this?