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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

Education: Is There No Common Ground?

By Peter DeWitt — April 25, 2014 3 min read
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What does it mean to find common ground? Does it mean screaming loud enough so the “other side” listens? Or does it mean taking to listen as much as we want to be heard? These days, it seems like there isn’t a lot of listening going on. We are all involved in a battle that each side wants to win.

A little less than three years ago I began writing this blog. I called it Finding Common Ground because I was hoping to meet in the middle on some tough issues. There are times when I met that personal goal, and other times when I leaned pretty far to the left. Unfortunately, I was becoming as closed-minded as some of the people that I criticized.

Things have changed for me over the past few months. I recently resigned as the Principal of Poestenkill Elementary School in the Averill Park Central School District (Averill Park, NY). It was a community I loved being a part of, and it was not an easy decision. I will miss the day-to-day interactions with students, staff and parents. After nineteen years in public education, I am now writing and giving Visible Learning trainings nationally and internationally, and my perspective has changed a bit.

To be clear and consistent, I have two major issues, which are non-negotiables. High stakes testing is destructive and tells us very little. Not only are they too long and stressful, but teachers and school leaders get absolutely no feedback. How is that beneficial for learning?

The reality is that there are many more authentic ways to assess student learning. High stakes testing just brow beats students into submission. That is not conducive to high quality learning.

But we know that already, and have known that for a long time.

The other non-negotiable for me is having teacher and administrator evaluation tied to high stakes testing. Accountability has really been about a lack of trust between state education departments and schools (and the U.S. Department of Education). There are many teachers and school leaders who were doing their jobs long before accountability.

If evaluation is about improvement, how can teachers and leaders improve if one of the areas their evaluation is tied to offers them no feedback? That is less about improving education and more about a heavy-handed political influence.

A Balanced View - My brother used to joke with me that Fox News was “Fair and Balanced.” He is a bit more conservative than I am, but he’s more than my brother, he is one of my best friends. I am always amazed at how many liberal friends were scared of his conservative views, even when he wasn’t actively debating anyone. I guess it’s how conservatives must feel about liberals from time to time.

Unfortunately, there is a spectrum of crazy on both sides. It really doesn’t matter which side of any debate you are on, there are people who always take it to an extreme, and shout louder and louder until they are heard. Sometimes it’s out of frustration, and other times it’s out of a need to be right.

The Other Side - So...from time to time you may see posts on here from people you wouldn’t expect. My views are strong enough that I can post from people I don’t agree with, but my views aren’t so strong that I can completely dismiss all other alternate views either.

We seem to be missing common ground, especially when we talk about education. I understand it. Education brings about a real visceral reaction from people. Unfortunately, that does not lead us to anywhere productive. There is so much noise out there these days that teachers, parents and students do not know where to turn.

I have heard people say we are in a revolution. That is true. If everyone is involved in a revolution, what are we all fighting for? In revolutions there is collateral damage, and in education that involves students and teachers.

What is distracting during the revolution is the amount of noise and infighting that can happen. And, sadly people fight with others without really listening to what they are trying to say. They base opinions on hearsay and someone else’s opinions. I guess I just believe in what Stephen Covey said. “Seek first to understand than to be understood.”

For the first year I wrote this blog I focused on social-emotional learning, which will still be a topic I cover. However, I will continue to focus on educational reform and school leadership, but I am going to try to invite people who are not like-minded to offer guest blogs. I know it won’t always make me popular to invite the “other side” in and provide them with a venue, but Education Week offers a comment section so people can add their side of the story.

I guess, in the end, I’m trying to find common ground with people I do not always agree with, and continue to build consensus with those that I do.

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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.