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

Finding Common Ground

By Peter DeWitt — July 11, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Everyone should have at least one time in their life when they feel chosen, wanted, held up for some kind of special treatment. The times are rare, life is short, others have only a given amount of real need and generosity. It is good to be philosophical when we are not chosen, but it is a vital, precious, almost scintillating thing to be young, to be excited, to be wanted specifically for some task, and to feel a possible dream is on the edge of fulfillment. It is vital for there to be an experience of morning in our lives and for this experience to be called on in the memory of other, more difficult mornings to come. There is no mercy in this world if at least once in our lives we do not feel the privilege of being wanted where we also want to be wanted. —David Whyte, "Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity"

Today is my first blog for Education Week, and I’m honored to be writing for them. When I was completing my degree in school administration in 2003 at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., I met a professor named Dr. James Butterworth. Jim taught a class called Critical Issues and he was tough. He expected our best every day. We had to read a variety of educational literature, and one of my favorite publications was Education Week. Week after week we read articles, discussed and debated. We also had to write reflections on those articles and discuss how we would run schools differently. It was then that I realized I loved to write about education. Education is my chosen profession and I love everything that comes with it.

As time went on, I realized how impressive Jim was as an educator. He was a social studies teacher, principal, school superintendent and Assistant Commissioner of Education leading the New York State Education Department’s Office of School Improvement and Community Services. He also taught at various colleges in the Albany area. I was fortunate enough that he was my doctoral chair in the Sage College of Albany’s Doctoral of Education Program. He helped me kick off my educational writing experience, so I find that I have come full circle now that I am writing for Education Week.

After a great deal of reflection, my editor and I came up with the title Finding Common Ground because that’s what I will strive to do as I write my weekly posts.

There is so much debate in education, whether we are talking about public education, private education, inequalities in what is offered to children, or high stakes testing and property tax caps. I have always tried to put myself in my opponent’s shoes so I can see their perspective, even if I do not agree with it. I don’t like vilifying people; I like to come to a common understanding. We spend so much time battling it out over our issues that it is my hope we can find some common ground. In the end it all comes back to what we offer for our students; and all students should have the same opportunities.

My path to the education profession was not easy. I am a former struggling learner who grew up in a relatively small town in upstate New York called Queensbury, and I am the youngest of five children. I was retained in fourth grade, my dad passed away when I was in fifth grade and I was raised by my mom and my four older siblings. My mom was a school cafeteria worker while my dad was alive and worked at a medical packaging plant after he passed away because we needed to put food on the table. We were considered lower middle class but we did not know it at the time. At least, I didn’t know it. I just knew my family was somewhat different than the family my friends were a part of.

I struggled throughout my public school career and graduated fourth from last in my class in high school. After dropping out of two community colleges, I went to Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., and met a coach who encouraged me to go to the Learning Assistance Center. As a long distance runner, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to be running for Nike or Reebok and decided to take my coach’s advice. At the LAC, I met a second person who helped me find my way. Both men had a profound influence on my future.

I am proof that struggling learners who have seen tough times can be resilient and find their way. They just need the help of good teachers, a supportive family, and influential adults like a good coach.

As educators we have a positive or negative impact on our students and it is up to us to decide which one is the way we wish to be remembered.

These days, I have a variety of jobs. My primary job is that of an elementary school principal in a suburban school district outside of Albany and I am honored to have the position. And even after all of these difficult years, I still mean that. Before becoming a principal, I taught in a few city schools over a period of eleven years. In my spare time, I write for state, national and international publications and I dabble with writing children’s literature. I also have a few more “part time” positions that I will write about over the life of the blog.

I hope you drop in regularly to read my posts. Three days a week, I will explore issues that cover the emotional and social issues children face. I will explore high-stakes testing, teacher and administrator evaluation, safeguarding LGBT students, drop-out prevention, school discipline, reaching students who are at-risk, and other topics that effect educators, students and parents every day.

I’d also like to hear from you and explore your ideas. Every so often I would like to ask you to share your best practices. I’ll provide the topic and you can provide your best practice. The blog is stronger when we can explore topics together, and I hope we can all find some common ground. Please feel free to find me at www.petermdewitt.com.

Thank you for your time.
— Peter DeWitt

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.


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.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

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 California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)