Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are You Stuck With Their Mindset?

By Peter DeWitt — March 27, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Just because we are stuck with their policies doesn’t mean we need to be stuck with their mindset.” Michael Fullan

Sometimes someone makes one statement, and it sticks with us for hours or days after we walk away. At the Auckland Education Festival, Michael Fullan made a powerful statement in a Q&A session. He said, “Just because we are stuck with their policies doesn’t mean we need to be stuck with their mindset.” I have a great deal of respect for Michael, and I could not get his words off my mind. I realized, as I have at other times before, I was letting someone else’s opinion of us, control my thoughts.

There have been times when I have had deficit thinking. Writing a blog three times a week always brings out the potential to focus on the negative...depending on the week I am having. There is a difference between a negative blog, and one that criticizes bad policies.

To be clear and consistent, high stakes tests tied to teacher and administrator evaluation is heavy handed and wrong. Scripted curriculum, with the expectation that everyone will follow the same pace, is unfair to students and teachers. Standards that are inappropriate and accountability-based has harmful effects, and many governments seem to make grave mistakes when it comes to educational policy.

But, as Michael Fullan suggests, just because we are stuck with their policies doesn’t mean we need to be stuck with their mindset. We can be better than that, because we are better than that. What brings out the worst in us is when we believe what they are saying. What also brings out the worst in us is when we tune out what everyone is saying.

I have had the luxury to attend a three day education festival in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve had the opportunity to really hear what John Hattie and Michael Fullan have to say, but I’ve also had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with Hekia Parata, the Minister of Education for New Zealand. Minister Parata is not only a champion for New Zealand schools, but she works in partnership with them.

I’ve heard teachers, students, principals and parents celebrate what is good about their education system, at the same time they work together to solve the larger problems that they are experiencing.

I am walking away knowing that I am 100% responsible for my 50%. I have been close-minded about issues, and open-minded about others. I have had times of deficit thinking, and I believe those of us who have had that line of thinking need to change our mindsets, because the people who are wrong will never change theirs.

It doesn’t mean we have to stop fighting the issues that we think are most harmful, but perhaps we can stop fighting everything because we are under initiative fatigue. Not everything that comes at us is bad. Not everyone who wears a “suit” is bad. Perhaps, not everything that comes at us is as bad as we think.

At this point we have all been given a box. What can we do within that box? If you’re a teacher, it means that you have to take a few more steps outside to fight for balance between what you have been asked to do, and what you want to do. It also means that you have to work in unison with your students, and allow them some of that same balance.

As a principal, it means that you need to work with your teachers, students and parents, and not against them. I understand that you may think you don’t work against them, but look at your own behavior day in and day out. Do you work with teachers or micromanage what they are doing?

I understand that we have been given policies that require 95% of educators already doing a great job to be held under the same constraints of the 5% who aren’t. But, respectfully, I also ask whether you use deficit thinking when even some of the best ideas come at you.

The other day I posted a blog about two great schools I visited in New Zealand. They have their issues, and some have turned around populations that were never given a fair chance before, and they have done it with honor and hard work. The fruits of their labor were showcased at the festival. But no more than a few minutes after I posted the blog, I received comments about how we can’t do that in America.

Really? Does even the good that come our way get met with, “I’d love to do that but...?” We are not perfect, and sometimes were not as good as we think we are. Is it possible to try to have more of a growth mindset? I know it is not easy. As Michael Fullan says, just because we are stuck with their policies doesn’t mean we need to be stuck with their mindset.

I really don’t want their mindset any more...

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.