In established systems, many times there are unwritten rules about from whom we can or should learn. And while there is no doubt experience is invaluable in the life of an educator, there’s ample evidence that learning from the new is vital to the profession and the students entrusted to our care. This school year, I’ve had opportunities to work and network with early career educators, who hold a vast and broad knowledge base that may go unacknowledged within the larger sphere of public education.
The challenges and opportunities of public education demand such learning. Author Peter Senge writes, “Pushing harder and harder on familiar solutions, while fundamental problems persist or worsen, is a reliable indicator of non-systemic thinking – what we often call the ‘what we need here is a bigger hammer’ syndrome.” The unfamiliar landscape yields a discomfort in thinking, as we look for new tools. Such a landscape will not always yield spectacular or even marginal success, but in walking that road we are assured of learning. And at times, we find new ideas and solutions.
Early career educators, while not monolithic in nature, share a deep and abiding aspiration for the children they teach and for the profession they enter. They are filled with questions and aspirations, and seek to be actively involved in decisions. They come from educational programs with a lens on equity, and are pursuing learning at an exponential pace. They seek positions of leadership, asserting the power of relational organizing. Yet at times we show them a singular path to leadership, while asking them to “wait their turn.” This is not a recipe for a profession that is self-sustaining, and certainly doesn’t honor their life experience. Imagine an excited kindergarten student on the first day of school being told to wait to share her voice until fourth grade. By that point, it’s a bit late, and we very well will lose that voice.
Listening to these early career educators, we hear they are invested in public education and are concerned about race and equity, but don’t know quite where to start in collectively closing opportunity gaps. They are inquisitive, asking questions of experienced teachers and the community. They often challenge the status quo, looking for a new tool, rather than a bigger hammer. The paths they take will not always lead to success, but that’s part of being in this profession, where adaptive challenges outnumber easy solutions. Our work is to listen and acknowledge that skill comes not only in years, but in life experience and new learning brought to a community.