Knot in the Gut

Shifting the focus of education to transferable skills that will support students in a world coming to terms with climate change both illuminates and shadows the soul. In one moment you can almost feel the electricity leaping between every individual cell in your body as connections pop into your mind at an alarming rate. In then next moment, only emptiness – a sucking void of limitations, inadequacy, and disappointment. Both can ruin and inspire the work.

I want to focus on the shadowing effect, because today it reared up for me, unyielding and demanding of my attention. I believe we all have our own physical experiences with this effect, and by naming that physical experience, we can begin to understand and ultimately accept it. My physical experience is the feeling of a knot just below my diaphragm, that wells up through my esophagus with a tightening just below my jaw. If this goes on for a couple of days, I get a sharp constant pain along the right side of my spine directly between my shoulder blades.

I don’t hate the knot. I see my journey in this work following a wave-like path; the knot will come and go. I don’t see the knot as an irritant or some intrusion into my otherwise centered and focused life. The knot is a signal that some epic struggle is about to begin, and that I should prepare to readdress my beliefs and reassert my core values. I am not exactly excited or encouraged when the sensation shows up, because I know it will bring plenty of anguish and self doubt, but these are things I must feel and think my way through, and so I do.

The knot today, and leading up to it this week, was in large part due to an identity crisis that I encounter from time to time as a teacher leader. I am doing the work (teacher) and analyzing how the work aligns to the vision (leader). In one moment I am engaged in high-leverage professional development with math best practices (teacher) and in the next I am considering trends in school wide implementation and how to make this work sustainable (leader). In a conversation with a colleague at the end of the day, the best way I could describe the sensation was, “It’s like performing surgery on yourself.”

Being a teacher leader can be a dizzying confusion of roles, and often there is very little refuge to find. As a teacher, administration looks to you for a “boots on the ground” perspective. As a leader, colleagues look to you for the inside scoop on administrative priorities. As a teacher, I pass no evaluative judgement on my colleagues and their practices. As a leader, I need to analyze organizational trends and patterns to move the vision forward. As a teacher, I worry about being timely with my assessments, relevant with my instruction, and engaging my students with all of the diverse experiences they bring in the moment. As a leader, I worry about communication channels between stake holders, teacher retention rates and working conditions, and the state of equity in my school.

Essentially, a teacher leader is the antithesis of the public education institution as it stands. They exist at all levels of the chain of command. They dance between all layers of the organization. They are on call, for all of their connections, at all times of the work day. They can be plaintiff, defendant, and mediator in the same instant. Being so connected can also be isolating at times.

It is this type of role, however, that is most important when we consider what makes the shift to teaching transferable skills take root and explode with tangible results. When a school encourages its teachers to move fluidly between previously rigid roles in a quest to make transferable skills a reality of their culture and climate, that’s when we are truly changing the landscape of public education. Teacher leaders disrupt the system in pursuit of creating a new norm, respective to the demands of the of 21st century uncertainties of global climate change.

Today, the knot reminds me of this. After two hours of writing this post, I don’t quite feel it anymore. And like that, I’ll charge on as a teacher leader. We’ll all move on past our own knots. Preparing future generations to address the issues of climate change requires this of us all.



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