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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
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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.