My Reverse Ark

Angry Elephant

I feel sorry for them, actually.  The elephants and 800-pound gorillas in “the room” have developed quite a reputation because of our own unwillingness to face brutal facts, and they are getting restless. 

Let’s agree to set them free.  Yes, all of them. The ones that make us look good, bad, or simply average.  Taking the beasts out one at a time to wash and deodorize them before putting them back in “the room” simply isn’t enough. Think of it as a kind of reverse Noah’s Ark, but with only two animals, represented by much more than two. 

I stand here at the door of my Reverse Ark ready to swing it wide open.  But by doing so, they will likely terrorize everyone in Education Nation.  You can’t just release gorillas and elephants into a system-based society without rattling its inhabitants.   But, I believe in disruptive innovation, so stand back. 

  • As a principal, and contrary to the media-constructed reality, I can get rid of a bad teacher.  I just can’t get rid of a mediocre one.  Either we accept that not every child is going to get a top-notch education, or we change.  What we are being asked to do cannot be accomplished with mediocrity.
  • In relation to this, there is a catastrophic crisis of educational leadership across the country.  Teachers are wary of my last point because there are not enough exemplary leaders making evaluation decisions.  We know there is a shortage of outstanding teachers and guess where the pool of potential leaders comes from?   Further, few of the most talented have any interest in becoming building or district leaders.
  • We’ve yet to find a sustainable system that routinely defeats the impact of poverty on learning.  Waiting for Superman-type solutions are admirable and even effective, however, they also involve massive funding supplements and unusual circumstances.  Others simply fail after the cameras stop rolling.
  • Unions are not evil nor inherently obstructionist.  But, they are not inherently good or supportive.  Further, there is no “union” as an entire entity.  The union is what it is, state-by-state, district-by-district and leader-by-leader, good, bad, or simply there.  My union experience may be entirely different than other principals across the state or nation.  However, a protection for a teacher who is unfairly attacked, is an obstruction for a principal who has accurately identified poor performance in another teacher.  Either way, kids lose.
  • Evaluation instruments are only part of the solution.  Give me the most highly performing sports car and I’ll crash it with constant distractions.  Principals are characterized as instructional leaders, but spend a majority of their day managing issues outside of teaching that distract them with regularity.  Often, we end up only evaluating, but rarely finding the time to coach.
  • The general perception of the public is that anyone (post kindergarten) can teach.  We have done a poor job of characterizing and contrasting the changes in education from when “we were kids,” to today.   Most members of the public have no idea how sophisticated delivering exemplary instruction has become.  This is truly a different landscape and we are not babysitters that talk “at” children all day.  Or, at least, the good ones aren’t.
  • We don’t pay enough to support the volume of intellectual talent we need in front of children.  Period.

That’s it, for now.  I’m temporarily slamming the door on my reverse ark because I can hear the frantic screams coming from the inhabitants of Education Nation.  I can envision an enraged ape hanging from a flagpole and an angry elephant trampling a school bus.

But, can you blame them?  You’d be angry too if you had been cooped up in the “room” for so long.

Do you have any elephants or gorillas in your ark?  You might want consider letting them out. 

They’re stinking up the place.




Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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