Task Zero, Review: Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble, by Debra E. Meyerson, is a book about various leaders who are considered to be “tempered radicals” within their organizations. “Tempered radicals are people who operate on a fault line. They are organizational insiders who contribute and succeed in their jobs. At the same time, they are treated as outsiders because they represent ideals or agendas that are somehow at odds with the dominant culture.” They are radicals in the sense that they invoke change within their organization, but tempered, where they are subtle with this change. They feel that if they conform, “they silence a core part of their selves.” How they invoke these changes are not in a negative or malicious way, but involves a mix of their beliefs, morals, and ethics. “They work within systems, not against them.”
Tempered radicals make a difference in a variety of ways: Resisting quietly and staying true to one’s “self” (taking subtle action without being noticed); Turning personal threats into opportunities (turning an immediate threat to your values into a learning opportunity for your organization); Broadening the impact through negotiation (taking the time to respond to an immediate situation with strategies); Leveraging small wins (initiating doable changes); and Organizing collective action (bigger wins with the help of others). Task One, How am I Different?: In Chapter 2, Different Ways of Being “Different”, Meyerson “identified three ways people experience “difference” from the majority:
Those who have different social identities from the majority and see those differences as setting them apart and excluding them from the mainstream.
Those who have different social identities and see those differences as merely cultural and not a basis for exclusion.
Those who have not cultural but philosophical differences, which conflict with the prevailing values, beliefs, and agendas operating in their organizations.”
I feel that the third “difference” applies to me most. All of us in education have had to express at one point or another our philosophy on education during our coursework as we earned our degrees. Our philosophies may change over the years based on our experiences.
Educators have different philosophies on homework. I feel that homework is important. I agree with my school that homework should be weighed at no more than 10% of the overall grade and to be flexible with giving students extended time to complete it and opportunities to improve on it if students are having difficulties getting support at home with homework.
With the demographics of my student population, I know that most of my students have a difficult time completing their homework on time because of family situations. I accept work late with no penalties and if students have misconceptions about homework, I work with students in small group. However, in the 8th grade contract, if students have more than three missing assignments, it is a detention. Two or more detentions is a loss of graduation privileges (luncheon, picnic, DC trip, and/or graduation ceremony) depending on how many detentions a student has. I feel that homework is important and that students shouldn’t be penalized with detentions for not completing it. What I feel we could try is to implement a merit system where students earn their privileges throughout the year instead of taking them away.
Task Two, Becoming a Tempered Radical: In terms of becoming a tempered radical, I see myself right now as “resisting quietly and staying true to one’s “self””. My beliefs about homework have me at this level. As I see myself moving up on the continuum, I would like to try to make the change of the merit system for 8th graders. I’m guessing that skipping around on the continuum may be appropriate as well, as there may be different circumstances that may arise in any given situation that I will have to respond accordingly.
The takeaway from the book is to not let anyone or anything shut down my beliefs. I value the experiences that each person in the book shared. What Martha Wiley did for her employees is similar to what I do with my students. I listen to their situations and come up with a plan with them. There are times where I have to de-escalate situations and use restorative practices. These work better than detentions,but If students happen to earn a detention, (and it has to be serious), then we talk and reflect during detention.
The situation with John Ziwak and his family commitments were important to him. This is true for me too. In the beginning of the school year, I was unable to stay after school for any after school programs even though I was asked a couple of times. My family comes first (as with Martha) and I have to be the primary parent who does it all until my husband comes home late from work. It is my responsibility to take our son to Greek school and all his other activities. I am a teacher, mother, and wife. My family comes first. However, after in the middle of second quarter this year, I was able to negotiate one day that I can stay after school with the 8th graders to offer them academic support in math.
Task Three, Facing Challenges: In Chapter 8, Facing the Difficulties (and Conditions that Ease the Difficulties), Meyerson identifies four challenges:
The difficulties of ambivalence (psychological challenge-anxiety, guilt, loneliness, accusations of hypocrisy)
The incremental lures of co-optation (psychological challenge-fear of exclusion) - “reasonable compromises”: waiting for a “better time”, using “insider” language, developing a professional image, providing loyalty, complying with gender roles.
Potential damage to their reputation (result when acting on their differences)
Frustration and burnout (result when acting on their differences)
I’m grateful I don’t currently have these challenges. If ambivalence takes such psychological tolls as Meyerson stated, then perhaps I may go through the motions of anxiety, guilt, loneliness, and accusations of hypocrisy. Having an excellent support system is what will help to overcome this challenge.
I am working with my students to strengthen their mathematical discourse, but can this happen if one student gives the wrong answer and others start chiming in and agree? This is an example of conforming. Students need more time to process information and think for themselves. Solve the problem, and clarify any misconceptions. I would most definitely need more time to process information and what’s happening in the organization to stay away from being lured toward co-optation.
Support systems are crucial, weighing the pros and cons of situations, and where I am on the continuum of how tempered radicals make a difference, are important components to how, if ever, I find myself in the situation where I may face the challenges of a tempered radical.