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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

Finding School Spirit

By Peter DeWitt — May 11, 2012 3 min read
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The other day I was watching the Ed Show on MSNBC and Ed Schultz was showing his support for teachers, which is always appreciated. During his excellent commentary he said that Republicans have been demoralizing teachers over the past few years. Unfortunately, demoralizing teachers, or education as a whole, is a non-partisan issue. Democrats, Independents and Republicans all talk about our present education system is a matter of national security.

Most in education with agree with that sentiment. The constant focus on accountability (which seems to be on steroids) and high stakes testing will put our students at risk. Many of those politicians who are not criticizing education are not necessarily standing up in support either. Educators are starting to get used to it which is a sad commentary on our present situation. Finding school spirit is becoming difficult but it’s something we must do.

This time of year is tough on our nation’s schools. As teachers and administrators drive to work every day they pass signs for prospective board members running for seats on the board of education (BOE) and they may pass a few signs that tell community members to vote down the budget because taxes are too high. Educators have always asked students to leave their issues at the door so they can focus on the school day, and I guess it’s time that teachers and administrators follow that same advice. However, it’s not easy and can hurt morale.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Hargreaves and I called the blog What’s Ailing American Schools. Dr. Hargreaves did an outstanding job, as he always does, answering the issues that we face in our schools across America. However, it never occurred to me that I too was focusing on the things we can do better, instead of all the things that educators do right everyday when they walk into their classrooms.

Social Emotional Growth
Educators are under scrutiny to show that their students are “achieving” when it comes to high stakes testing. Every year they must show growth or they are at risk of being labeled as ineffective and ultimately losing their job. For many of us in education, we fear that this path is already set for us and we are merely along for the ride.

When I think of growth, I don’t think of test scores. An organization that I respect the most in education is the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and they focus on the Whole Child. The whole child is so much more than test scores and educators know that. The whole child is about educating our students at the same time we help them grow socially and emotionally. Many times parents partner with us on that journey and other times we feel as though we are going it alone.

Teachers, support staff and administrators build important relationships with students everyday. They learn about the homes that they come from, what their hardships are, where their strengths are, and they help build upon that. For me, the greatest thing about being an administrator is watching students grow socially and emotionally from one year to the next. We all have students who come from tough backgrounds, and are impressed that they show up to school every day.

Many students see homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and poverty at such a young age, and yet they still come to school. Schools provide many students with the only stability they may see in their young lives, and those teachers that educate those students provide them with guidance to find success in their futures.

School days may only be six or seven hours long but teachers and administrators work a lot longer than those school hours. They spend a great deal of time planning lessons, meeting about students and focusing on how to changes their school for the better. Anyone who criticizes a school day or a teacher has never spent a day in school.

In the End
Educators will never be able to stop all the noise that happens outside their classroom doors. Schools will always be plagued by politics. Until the way schools are funded changes, there will always be anger about how high school taxes are, which creates finger pointing on who makes too much money and how many hours a day a person works.

There will always be people in the community who will stand on their soap box and talk about how they can do it better. Unfortunately those people will never walk into the classroom and do what teachers do, which is educate students. That education that is provided to students includes social and emotional growth. During these tough times we need to look within our own schools and find school spirit and use that as our inspiration to keep moving forward. Our students are counting on us.

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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.