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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

Have Educators Been Bystanders for Too Long?

By Peter DeWitt — December 07, 2016 4 min read
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In many ways we have been enabled. We have believed, based on someone else’s rhetoric, that we are failing as teachers and leaders. Some have even provided such a good case for this failure that we started drinking what they were giving us in the way of curriculum and initiatives to believe that it’s all we need to improve. What’s worse, is when others don’t agree with these changes they start secretly building a case to vilify them.

We have meetings after the meeting. We turn on each other.

This questioning of our own beliefs and values has led to something much worse, which has been our own enabling, which destroys our self-efficacy. Hattie has defined self-efficacy as “The confidence or strength of belief that we have in ourselves that we can make our learning happen.” A lack of self-efficacy leads some of us to feel like victims in our professional and personal worlds.

We can’t stand up.

We don’t have any real power.

All of this is being done to us.

Teachers often feel as though they have to sit in compliance during faculty meetings, professional learning, and their own teacher evaluation formal meetings. Sometimes leaders feel this lack of self-efficacy so they don’t question district initiatives or they play bystander within the buildings they’re supposed to help run. If the teachers and leaders in our schools feel as though they don’t have a voice or any real power in their own lives, does it trickle down to our students?

Compliance, Fake News, and “Did he say that?
We spend too much time in compliance, and it happens in all facets of our lives. Many of us spend our nights watching the nightly news, and listen and watch stories, which tend to be negative and tragic stories. Do we try to do something to change the world around us? Or do we spend our nights yelling back at the television because we feel incensed? Do we ever really go to check sources to see if the story was true in the first place?

Are we bystanders in our own lives?

We passively watch the news, and then we go to social media where we passively Re-Tweet stories on Twitter, and repost stories on Facebook that in the long run were never true. Too many people post fake news without knowing it, because they have never really spent time questioning the “real” news they watch on the major channels in the evening.

This enabling has made us question ourselves so much that we believe what we saw some leader say on television during things like the presidential race only sounded the way it did because of editing on the part of the news stations. That can’t be what they really meant to say? I’m sure we misheard it. Oh, you’re too sensitive!, are the things we say to make ourselves feel better.

We Need to Take It Back
Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves are calling us to action. In Bringing the Profession Back In (Learning Forward. 2016), Fullan and Hargreaves focus on Professional Learning and Development (PLD), which take cultures of collaborative professionalism (p. 8). PDL is all about building professional, human and decisional capital.

It’s about getting our voices back.

Fullan and Hargreaves suggest that this idea of self-efficacy has been stripped from teachers, especially in the US, because there has been a, “barrage of wrong solutions thrown at the profession.” I worry that the new U.S. Secretary of Education will just do more of the same because they feel they know all of the answers already on what our teachers and schools need, and they won’t be willing to listen to the experts in the profession.

So therefore, Fullan and Hargreaves say we need to focus on the Good New Pedagogies and take back our profession in a grass roots effort. The Good New Pedagogies are inquiry, engagement and activism. They write,

Given worldwide developments in the last half of 2016, the big picture (societal development), and the small picture (the place where you work) are fusing. Everybody knows that something is amiss, afoot, and adrift, and nobody seems to know what to do. This puts education in the forefront of figuring out the future of humankind."

Yes, education is that important.

In the End
We are at a tipping point. We are under a barrage of negative stories, fake news, and compliance and accountability that will only lead to more compliance and accountability, more fake news and negative stories. What are we getting out of it? Nothing. We still feel like we have no voice and after years of experience and paying to go to expensive schools to get degrees so we can remain in our practice, we feel like we are not good enough at what we do.

Fullan and Hargreaves are calling for a call to action, and it takes collaborative leadership that can help build collaborative professionalism. We need to start focusing on the Good New Pedagogies so that we can build a grass roots effort to help all of our students, no matter where they come from, be a part of our school communities. And we need to use those same pedagogies to help teachers understand they do have a voice.

Where? Go to social media. Join an edcamp. Connect with others. Fullan and Hargreaves suggest we get involved beyond our state, province or country. They believe there will be “worldwide turbulence in 2017 and beyond in education and all sectors,” and that we should be a part of the “developments as a learner and leader in equal measure.”

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

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.