What does it mean to be teachable?
The other day, I read a chapter from John C. Maxwell’s book THE 21 INDISPENSABLE QUALITIES OF A LEADER entitled, “Teachability.” The chapter led me to the question, “what does it mean to be teachable?” Being teachable seems to mean “progress.” By me learning, I am going to “progress.” Yet, does all “progress” reflect learning or good teaching?
I see and read more and more articles about girls being hurt (mentally / physically / financially / spiritually) in the name of “progress.”
Here are several articles I have read that show these are not signs of progress or at the best, the progress we are being taught to accept (males who believe they are females have the right to compete against biological females) is at the cost of pain for the biological females.
I have experienced being hurt in the name of progress. All my career, starting in 1989, I have chosen to say / continue to say to my students:
- I love ya
- You look beautiful today.
- You look gorgeous.
- Thank God I am at “fill-in-the-blank” high school.
- You (my students) are all blessings from God.
- God has me here (“fill-in-the-blank” high school) to fulfill a mission.
- Wow! That sounds awful! Here is how we are going to fix it. (Notice I do not say, “you’re awful”)
All my career, again starting in 1989, at times I chose to wear attire that has a Cross on it or cited a specific scripture on it. On a shelf in my office, SO ONLY I CAN SEE IT, a small Cross to remind me of my Christian faith; not to promote my Christian faith. I have even brought my Bible to where I work.
But, beginning around 2008, all that I had done the previous 19 years was now turning into something negative or offensive or yes, WRONG.
- Compliments to students about appearance = wrong
- Sharing my faith or love for Jesus Christ = wrong
- Informing students their sound / performance was awful = wrong
- Wearing sports jersey with the back (where the name / number would usually be) having “Psalm 56” = wrong
All that had helped me be an award-winning teacher (ALL GLORY TO Jesus Christ) was slowly being taken away from me. I was now “wrong.” What once helped me be a very good music teacher were now signs of trouble. I was becoming “unteachable.”
Friends / Colleagues, “Paul, how could you say that in class?” “Why would you say that in class?” Fewer phone calls / requests about going to schools to give a clinic about their band’s performance or lead a leadership session. Which is sort of odd. What I know now after 33 years of teaching should make me better than what I knew after 20 years of teaching. But I was not toeing the line.
Administrators, “Paul, I don’t care about your first amendment rights! Stop using the internet to share your political beliefs. Your religious beliefs! You are an embarrassment to your principal, your school, the district and yes, to you! I am saving you from – YOU!” “Paul, saying to students ‘I love ya’ is weird. Stop that.”
I was “unteachable.”
And then, I read this chapter in THE 21 INDISPENSABLE QUALITIES OF A LEADER and went, ‘wait a minute. Am I unteachable or am I being taught something I do not believe in? I mean – really. COME ON!’
From the book:
Leaders face the danger of contentment with the STATUS QUO. After all, if a leader already possesses influence and has achieved a level of respect, why should the leader keep growing? The answer is simple:
- Your growth determines who you are.
- Who you are determines who you attract.
- Who you attract determines the success of your organization.
If you want to grow your organization, YOU must remain teachable.
Allow me (John C. Maxwell) to give you five guidelines to help you cultivate and maintain a teachable attitude (which I will share later).
WOAH! What I took away from this “Fleshing It Out” is:
Education (mainly “Government Education”) is more about changing behavior and less about academics. What I was doing was not matching the behavior. I was not learning how to be “progressive.” How to align with the current behavior (restorative justice / keep secrets from parents / etc.) of “Government Education.” And, since I was not “learning” how to accept – as are beautiful and gorgeous, ‘love’ is a sexualized term; since I was not “learning” how to accept saying, “God” in the classroom is unprofessional conduct; since I was not “learning” saying the students’ performance is “awful” – I am unteachable and when one is unteachable, that one needs to be dismissed / gone / fired / forced to resign.
I made a decision to stand by my passion, principles, purpose and at the same strange way, respect the current direction of the nation’s (or maybe California) new accepted behavior and walk away. I was being taught something different. I was being taught – it is alright for you (meaning me) to be taught something else. Find what you want to be taught.
What I want to be taught is how to teach music better, not how to behave like you / how to believe like you. What I want to be taught is how to be a better leader, not how to behave like you / pray like you / believe like you / lead like you!
Here are the five guidelines from Dr. Maxwell:
- Cure Your Destination Disease – Ironically, lack of teachability is often rooted in achievement. Some people mistakenly believe that if they can accomplish a particular goal, they no longer have to grow. My response: The “Behaviorists” area taking over “Government Education.” I do now want to improve or correct my behavior. I want to be a better music teacher. HYPERBOLE WARNING: At teacher conferences, there appears to be more about “behavior” (safe places / everyone is a winner / social emotional learning) than how to improve intonation, how to fix a trumpet valve, how to be a better MUSIC TEACHER).
- Overcome Your Success – Another irony of teachability is that success often hinders it. Effective leaders know that what got them there doesn’t keep them there. If you have been successful in the past, beware. And consider this: if what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today. My response: This is very challenging for me. The success I had is real. What I was doing was working. However, again, take a look at what the world is in 2022 and what the world was – let’s say, 2008 – I didn’t catch the “behaviorist-wave.” I was still thinking folks accepted me as the happy-heterosexual-compassionate conservative-masculine-male. I didn’t make the shift. That is my choice and I pay the consequence for that choice.
- Swear Off Shortcuts – My (Dr. Maxwell) friend Nancy Dornan says, “The longest distance between two points is a shortcut.” That’s really true. For everything of value in life, you pay a price. As you desire to grow in a particular area, figure out what it will really take, including the price, and then determine to pay it. My response: I have figured out I want to be a better me – husband / father / grandfather / father-in-law / etc. I love being a music teacher. However, being a music teacher in the “Government Schools” means giving up being an individual. What is happening in schools seems to be more about affirming harmful behavior (frankly, behavior that could be reasons for increased anxiety / depression Study finds increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thinking among U.S. adolescents seeking mental health care | Hub (jhu.edu) – take note that this article was published within a week of the “shutdown”) rather than affirm the commitment for the students to improve reading, writing, arithmetic. If the students saw improvement in their reading, writing, arithmetic, maybe that would HELP (not solve; not cure) their emotional well-being. After all, actions should lead to feelings.
- Trade In Your Pride – Teachability requires us to admit we don’t know everything, and that can make us look bad. In addition, if we keep learning, we must also keep making mistakes. But as writer and expert craftsman Elbert Hubbard sad, “The greatest mistake one can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” You cannot be prideful and teachable at the same time. Emerson wrote, “For everything you gain, you lose something.” To gain growth, give up your pride. My response: ABSOLUTELY. “For everything you gain, you lose something.” So, by me wanting to be a better man (all the roles I mentioned earlier), I need to give up or even, put a pause in being a music teacher. Now, some of you know, I am teaching again. I teach at a charter school (building an instrumental music program) and a public high school (attempting to save a music program). I admit … there are days when I feel that my “pride” got the best of me thinking I could be able to do both and / or even go back to teaching. However, when I focus on the reason, I took on these jobs, I check myself. The reason I took these jobs? I want to be a good friend who serves others. I have traded in my pride to be a better friend.
- Never Pay Twice for the Same Mistake – Teddy Roosevelt asserted, “He who makes no mistakes, makes no progress.” That’s true. But the leader who keeps making the same mistakes also makes no progress. As a teachable leader, you will make mistakes. Forget them, but always remember what they taught you. If you don’t, you will pay for them more than once. My response: As the “behaviorists” started to increase their influence in “Government Education,” I was paying twice for the same mistakes. Their progression is not my wanted progression: to be a better man. Instead of making the same “mistakes” more than once, I recognized “Government Education” was becoming something I did not recognize.
Dr. Maxwell ends each chapter with a “Bringing It Home” section.
Observe how you react to mistakes. Do you admit your mistakes? Do you apologize when appropriate? Or are you defensive? Observe yourself.
Try something new. Go out of your way today to do something different that will stretch you mentally, emotionally, or physically. Challenges change us for the better. If you really want to start growing, make new challenges part of your daily activities. My response: One of the reasons to accept the K-12 charter school job was because I had never worked at a charter school, and I have never taught beginning band before. Both (charter school / beginning band) stretch me mentally, emotionally (enjoy “Hot Cross Buns” / “Merrily We Roll Along”), and physically.
Learn in your area of strength. Read six to twelve books a year on leadership or your field of specialization. Continuing to learn in an area where you are already an expert prevents you from becoming jaded and unteachable.
So, are you teachable or unteachable? I would give you the benefit of the doubt (just because you are reading this) and guess you are TEACHABLE. If you are unteachable (be honest with yourself), it may be because you now find yourself in an environment that is teaching something different than who you are. You may need to TRY SOMETHING NEW. From experience, to be teachable may include giving up / sacrificing something or someone you have known for half your life. You will grieve. You will be alone. Trying something new, grieving the end of a career / friendships / relationships, being alone – turn all those and more into teachable moments.