I spent most of February on the road. Three out of four weeks included significant travel, all for projects involving small school districts. Based on the last official numbers, Washington had 72 districts with fewer than 225 students. Enrollment does tend to fluctuate wildly for some of these districts. I know of one, for example with approximately 40 students...10 of those are from the same (extended) family. You can imagine how a move from the area has an impact.
There is a quote by Gene Theodori that I love: When you've seen one rural community...you've seen one rural community. The same applies to rural schools. No two are alike. But what I am noticing is that some schools are on a path that is propelling them forward to create amazing possibilities for their students...students who, when leaving their area for the first time, ask their teacher if the city they see in the distance New York City, instead of Spokane.
But there are some districts where the teachers have lost all sense of self-efficacy. They complain about working within a community that is based on entitlement (welfare), and yet only ask for the same when it comes to their work---What will you give me? vs. What can we do for our students? There are lots of comments about what their kids can't do...and then when it's suggested that these teachers present or otherwise share their learning, the answer is "We can't."
I can't blame them for losing hope. They have a hard row to hoe. In one district, the teachers drive the bus, serve the lunch, and clean the school (no more funding for a custodian)---in addition to teaching multiple grade levels, all subjects, and having no prep time. That would wear anyone down in a hurry. And yet I can't help but notice the extreme contrast between the attitudes of these districts.
It is easier to take the sparks and fan them. They'll flame to life on their own and make magic happen. It's harder to know what the next steps are for those who have let their spark die out. I remind them as often as I can that I believe in them...that they're important, no matter how small the enrollment. But I'm not there everyday to cheerlead. Most of these schools have an administrator in the building just one day a week. These are teachers on their own.
So, how do we gently say that if you don't like what you see in the mirror when you look at your school, that you can change what is reflected? That you are powerful and what you do matters? How do we rebuild resilience for these teachers?