I bet I wasn't the only person whose eyes widened to see the "CMS has a crisis of heart" piece on the Viewpoint page of Sunday's Observer.
It's not that I was shocked to read about a pervasive climate of fear that stifles the joy of teaching. Anyone who has been paying attention has heard similar complaints, including plenty posted in comments on this blog.
It's that two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools social workers confronted the issue in print, with their names attached. After all, the whole thing about a climate of fear is that it tends to drive resentment underground. I can't even tally the times CMS employees have urged me to write about adult bullying or bad morale but said they wouldn't dare be quoted.
Sherman has worked for CMS off and on for about a dozen years, and been assigned to about that many schools. He has seen the ranks of fellow school social workers slashed by budget cuts. He has heard teachers and principals complain privately about a hostile, punitive climate.
He was also inspired by what he read in Morrison's entry plan about making sure employees feel energized, engaged and valued. Morrison has asked employees to work with him to make that happen. Sherman thought a public letter might inspire others. "When fear and silence and isolation take root," he said, it can be hard to embrace optimism and take a chance on change.
When Sherman and Sherrill learned their piece was about to run, they notified their principals and sent Morrison a copy, Sherman said. Morrison thanked them and encouraged them to be part of the ongoing discussions (see a schedule of meetings for the public and employees here). After a panel discussion on education Monday night, Sherman introduced himself to Morrison. "He expressed excitement," Sherman said. "It was awesome."
Since Sunday, Sherman says, he and Sherrill have been getting compliments from current and former CMS employees, as well as community members. One teacher said she started crying as she read the piece aloud to her husband because it hit so close to home.
So what's next? Morrison will lay out his plans for CMS sometime after his 100th day in the job, probably in early December. In his former job in Reno, Nev., he worked with staff to craft a "Culture of Respect" agreement. That was slow work, and it's pretty clear that making deep change in a workforce of more than 18,000 will take time as well.
|Pinewood teachers at the Firebird|
I know there are others -- principals, teachers, and yes, high-level administrators -- who defy all the obstacles to create a culture of heart. Let's hold them up as an example.