I have a friend who is doing some amazing stuff. The things she knows and the things she does with and for students is truly awesome! And her awesome work is being recognized by her organization’s leaders. And that’s always a good thing. Ok. It’s usually a good thing. But what is happening to Cindy is such a familiar story. Let’s see if you recognize it.
My friend, Cindy, is growing amazing sunflowers in her world. She’s planting, watering, nurturing, tending, and sharing the seeds of her labor with as many people as she can who happen to pass by her field. An organization of farmers, to which Cindy belongs, has called her a leader. They have put her in charge of a group of people who are interested in growing sunflowers.
This group of sunflower enthusiasts grows. And it’s good. There are many in the farmers’ organization who see the sunflowers and think they’re pretty, but they also know that sunflowers aren’t real food. They’re busy growing real food. Let Cindy and her friends grow those pretty sunflowers. There’s a place for them on the farm. But sunflowers aren’t food. And that is the purpose of a farm, right? To produce food?
Eventually, time passes, along with leadership changes and in fact, eventually, sunflowers are recognized to be something from which everyone in the entire organization can benefit. Cindy and her sunflower group friends agree!
So the new leadership, in their efforts to help Cindy promote her group and their sunflowers, set up a way for Cindy to showcase her awesome fields of sunflowers. They ask her to share her knowledge and experience. Yay!
And they give Cindy a box and a gallon-sized jar. And a closet with an incandescent light. Cindy is asked to grow a small sample of sunflowers in this small terrarium that will be protected in the closet so no one messes with her amazing flowers! Just a sample. We don’t want to overwhelm anyone with entire FIELDS of sunflowers. Just give us a small bit so others can see what it’s like and follow your lead in growing AMAZING sunflowers. We love your work so much and we believe it’s vital to our organization. Please help us, Cindy!
So, perplexed, Cindy turns to her sunflower group for help in making this “terrarium in a closet.” After all, it’s not really the best way to grow sunflowers, let alone learn about growing them, but maybe this small, closeted terrarium would attract others to the field later. So Cindy and her friends begin to work diligently to get the terrarium sunflowers to grow. It’s not easy. It’s not the best, but they convince themselves they’re doing the right thing for a bigger mission later.
So what happens with the mission? Do you think the whole farmer membership comes to look at and learn from the terrarium in the closet? Just because the new farmer organization leadership has recognized that sunflowers are vital, has the entire membership been suddenly convinced? Of those who do come to visit, do you think they get an accurate idea of how to grow fields of beautiful sunflowers? Do they even know what they’re looking at? Is Cindy using her time and her group’s time wisely to construct the closet terrarium?
Sometimes we’re helped by leadership that doesn’t truly know how to help those who are doing amazing things. They like what they see, but they don’t understand it. And in their zeal to help, they make us do things that just simply don’t help at all.
If you’re a leader — and I contend that most of us in education who are working to move the profession forward, no matter our pay-grade, work in some leadership capacity — how would you want to be approached and informed that you’re killing the sunflowers and killing the bigger mission? And what’s keeping you, Cindy, from helping your leaders see the truth of growing sunflowers?
I want to be clear: while this is a true story and I have been in Cindy’s position, this is not a story about me or leadership at my current job. This is sincerely only a story about a friend that has universal truths.