Education Opinion

An Authentic Independent School/Public School Teacher Dialogue: Might We?

By Peter Gow — January 17, 2014 3 min read
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Good things sometimes start small. Last night it was only a couple of dozen of us, gathered in Twitterland for the weekly independent school educators chat (hashtag: #isedchat; Thursdays, 9pm ET) organized by Lorri Carroll. It’s a lively space, and last night it seemed livelier still, as the focus was on “building connections between independent school educators and public schools.”

There are a number of established institutional partnerships, and I’ve written here before of the work of the National Network of Schools in Partnership in spreading the word on this kind of work. But the fact remains that at the teacher-to-teacher level, connections across sectors are few and generally a matter of happenstance rather than intent.

As (mostly) teachers and administrators in independent schools, the participants in last night’s chat can only surmise how we’re perceived by our colleagues in other sectors, but it is pretty clear that there’s a strong core of connected independent school folks who want to learn more from our public school counterparts. We chatted last night about barriers, about stereotypes, about what we hope we could learn and what we hope we could share.

Independent school teachers make up a tiny fraction of America’s teaching corps; our thousand-plus schools are a drop in the national bucket. We can surmise that our families have a disproportion of the country’s affluence and influence, and one criticism of independent schools is that they draw off a number of families with a strong interest in education whose participation in their communities’ public discourse on education could be important. But if our families aren’t as engaged as they might be, maybe our teachers can step up.

Yes, our workaday circumstances are unlike those of many public school teachers. We can choose our students, and we’re bound neither by excessive government regulation or union rules as to how we conduct our professional lives. If we’re subject to the forces of the marketplace, we all know that can be a double-edged sword. But the schools we work in, as a group, serve a large and diverse body of learners and offer a vast diversity of missions and program emphases. As teachers in schools, we spend every day face-to-face with kids who are working through mostly universal and age-old issues as they struggle to grow up and to learn.

One idea that received enthusiastic support yesterday involved making a greater effort to engage public school teachers in our professional conversations--at conferences, workshops, and on line. We can use our personal connections and work harder to reach out to local school districts and unions to pass the word.

Independent school teachers also need to step up in extending our own connectedness, whether by consciously seeking out more like-minded public school-based educators for our PLNs or attending the growing number of EdCamps occurring just about everywhere and largely organized under the auspices of public school teachers. And there is a world of conferences, local and national, at which we are notably underrepresented.

If you’re an independent school educator and interested in reaching out, just do it! The folks behind last night’s Twitter chat--and I am proud to have moderated it, with the able help of Chris Thinnes from California and Laura Robertson from Virginia--believe the time has come to act on the apparent enthusiasm for--need for, I would even say--some grass-roots, teacher-to-teacher connectedness between our sometimes rarefied world and those who work in public schools.

If you’re a public school educator interested in this dialogue, please jump in. Read this, pass it along, and add yourself to what I hope will be a real conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PubPriBridge.

Let’s start talking, shall we? There’s a great deal to talk about, and we’ve been letting some important things slide.

Engage with Peter on Twitter: @pgow

The opinions expressed in Independent Schools, Common Perspectives are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.