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

Education Needs More Tempered Radicals

By Peter DeWitt — December 13, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Tempered radicals are people who operate on the 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”(2003. Meyerson. P.5).

Working in any system is complicated, especially one that has been as well-established as the public education system. There are those educators who are happy entering school every day following the same plans that they have for years, and they like being told what to do. They don’t question their surroundings and want to “just” teach their students. This does not make them bad educators; it just makes them happy with the status quo. These educators still help students succeed and don’t see the point in fighting everything happening top-down.

The reality is that slashing and burning is not going to happen in our present system, and it shouldn’t because there is a lot of goodness within the public school system that is effective with students. Of course, that also matters on your own school experience as well as the one you are presently having as a teacher, administrator or parent.

There are also educators who see the need to change everything. They want to slash and burn the present system and start a new one without walls or grades or too much adult interaction. They want to see sweeping changes in education and fail to understand why everyone else doesn’t jump on their bandwagon to help them make the sweeping changes that they feel education desperately needs. If you have ever seen Norma Rae starring Sally Field, you understand what I mean. They have a cause and want everyone to know what it is.

There is another group that can be found in schools and they are the tempered radicals. Tempered radicals may be teachers, teacher aides, parents or principals who want to see changes because they do not necessarily agree with the status quo, but they don’t want to wear their opinions on their sleeves either. Tempered radicals want to work within the present system in order to change it and make it better for all students, not just those who do well on tests or fit into a nicely wrapped box.

Education needs all of these stakeholders in order to improve it. There needs to be rule followers who will follow along and the extreme radicals who will fight hard to help change the status quo. However, education also needs tempered radicals who have the perspective of being on the inside and knowing what needs to change to make things better.

Education Reform
The interesting piece about being a tempered radical is what side of the education reform you fall on. Many policymakers who are trying to make sweeping changes may feel as though they are tempered radicals because they are going against the grain when really they are just people with radical thoughts. Many might argue that those radical thoughts are about making more money off the institution through testing and evaluation (Pearson Gets 1.7 Billion for Testing. Washington Post).

Tempered radicals are those educators on the inside who make subtle changes every day. Whether it’s the way they educate students (i.e. seamlessly using technology, parent communication, grading, etc.) or how they make changes to a building through shared decision making and listening to the needs of their stakeholders. Perhaps it is a principal who gives their teachers more autonomy or someone who sends out researched based articles on instruction and discusses them at faculty meetings so they can make changes in instructional practices.

For tempered radicals, the status quo is never good enough and it certainly isn’t good enough for their students. They want a better education system for children. Meyerson says, “Tempered radicals set themselves apart by successfully navigating a middle ground. They recognize modest and doable choices in between, such as choosing their battles, creating pockets of learning, and making way for small wins.” (2003. p.6).

Public education needs to be filled with tempered radicals, some of whom know it and others who have it within but haven’t expressed it yet. Many educators join the profession because they want to change it for the better while working within its constraints. They wanted to create better classroom environments for students.

Are Students Encouraged to be Tempered Radicals?
From a school perspective, how do we encourage students to become tempered radicals? How do we get them to care about their world? How do we break them out of a consumer mindset? We are all surrounded by social justice issues. Through community service projects students become exposed to issues that other community members face. Students need to understand that, even the shyest of students can work to change their surroundings.

“Many of these people who operate quietly are not trying to drive broad-based change; they simply want to be themselves and act on their values within the environment where that may be difficult.”(2003. p. 9). Whether it’s through missionary work with their church or students who want to begin a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in their school, students should be encouraged to be tempered radicals.

Our world is filled with issues that need our involvement. We have large political, economic and social issues that need our involvement. Our schools are in need of change, and our students should be an important part of those changes. As many students and adults wait around for other people to change our circumstances, tempered radicals are actively pursuing ways every day.

Connect with Peter on Twitter

Meyerson, Debra. (2003). Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work. Harvard Business School Press.

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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP