Several years ago — at a Special Olympics Project UNIFY Youth Forum — the young leaders created an opportunity for a school superintendent to play the role of a typical school principal in a scenario focused on social inclusion. I remember his initial words to the students, “Of course, I am supportive of social inclusion.”
At the same time, his body language was more along the lines of “this is the right thing to say so that you will leave my office.”
Since that day in Omaha, Nebraska — I have thought about how true his words and actions could be and in fact I have visited many schools where the principal said almost those same words “I am supportive” but did not go all the way to say “I support” this strategy.
Being supportive means a practice is allowed, not necessarily questioned and might be the habit of a few teachers and some students.
The dictionary goes a bit further than I do defining supportive as “providing encouragement or emotional help.” So if we add encouragement to my description of supportive it still falls short of a practice being truly supported.
To me a practice is supported if the schools makes it a priority, ensures it is part of the accountability system, is measured for progress and impacts, is funded, is part of professional development and highlighted in school reports.
To go back to the dictionary supported means “ensuring services which enable something to fulfill its function and remain in operation; and establishing pillars to ensure continuation.” Given these definitions allow me to add a few additional characteristics to a school and its leaders supporting an education practice: policy and sustainability. Policy that removes impediments and provides sufficient funding, structures, capacity and accountability leading to large-scale long-term sustainability of an education practice.
Educators can think back to the initial years of instructional technology where school leaders were supportive of a few teachers, in a few classrooms with a few pieces of equipment to integrate into the school. Over the years instructional technology advanced from being supportive to being supported and an expectation throughout the schools with sufficient equipment, infrastructure, professional development and accountability.
We can also identify other school practices that started at the margin with a supportive notion and moved to the core by being sufficiently supported such as project-based learning, flipped classrooms, health-related classes and activities, whole child focus, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), career and technical programs, dual enrollment, immersive bilingual programs, experiential learning and several other practices and programs.
At a time when there are many conversations about innovation in education practices acknowledging the difference between being supportive and supported, from my experience, determines whether something is a fad for some or a sustainable practice for all.