Keeping a Difficult Job in Perspective

Gail Ann Greely | June 6, 2016 | Category: First Person

For the past few years I’ve been entrusted with providing some professional coaching support to new charter authorizing leaders.  Each authorizer’s needs have been unique – sometimes I was a management consultant, sometimes a technical adviser, sometimes a task master.  But I also discovered that they all needed a “morale officer” at some point in the work.  These are tough jobs, and the rewards aren’t always obvious.  So I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me when the road got rocky.

What makes authorizing work feel so hard?

  • Charter schools are controversial, and both proponents and opponents sometimes take aim at the “messenger” (you, the authorizer staff), rather than at the message.  You are not the real target.
  • With a few exceptions, charter schools aren’t the main focus of a school district’s work, so charter issues (and, therefore, you) can be perceived as a distraction (even a nuisance) by supervisors and peers.  That perception doesn’t mean your work is unimportant – just that others in your district don’t understand it yet.
  • Charter schools were created to have autonomy, but within boundaries.  You, the authorizer, are often obligated to say “no” to people who got into the charter school movement to hear more “yes”.  You may have to say “no” sometimes, but in “charter world” your silence means “yes”.

How can we keep it in perspective?

  • Watch Kids Learn:  You do this work because you believe in public education – it’s “for the kids”.  So when those words start sounding a bit hollow, go watch some kids learning in a good charter classroom.  Your hard work helps make that happen.
  • Connect With Other Authorizers:  Sometimes you just have to vent, and it’s easier to do with people who understand your frustrations.  Just make sure your conversations end with inspiration, rather than exasperation – share an upbeat moment or a funny story.
  • Politics Is Just People:  I have to confess to being a “recovering politician”.  A very important thing that I learned from 8 years as a school board member was that politicians are people.  Shocking, but true! And what do people want?  They want to be heard.  So the next time you’re sitting through a boring board meeting, try listening.  You may hear shared values and beliefs that could be the foundation for building common ground.