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

How Can We Fix Education?

By Peter DeWitt — April 14, 2012 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“I don’t know if we should resist change, but I do know we should insist on improvement.” Todd Whitaker

Recently there was a great article published by Joan Almon and Edward Miller called The Crisis in Education: A Research-Based Case for More Play and Less Pressure. The article focuses on the push down of curriculum to grades where it is not age appropriate for those students because they cannot academically and emotionally handle the work. All of this push down creates a situation where students are left with less play and end up with more stress.

As we watch politicians and policymakers move education in what seems to be a dysfunctional direction, there are countless teachers and administrators who have innovative ideas on the direction they would like to see education go.

Going to the Experts
On Twitter, I have an ever-evolving professional learning community. I went to a few of them for their perspective on how education needs to change. #echat founder Tom Whitby, Vancouver British Columbia Principal Chris Wejr, Principal and Google Certified Teacher Eric Sheninger, and educational leadership expert Todd Whitaker. The following are their thoughts.

#edchat brings together educators from around the world. Tom Whitby posts a poll every week that has four or five ideas chosen by educators who take part in #edchat. The idea that gets the most votes is the topic of the #edchat discussion. If you’re not taking part in #edchat, you’re missing out on great professional development opportunities.

“There is not just one area that we can fix to completely reform education. For real reform to take place we need to change the culture. Much of what we do today¸ as educators, was designed for another time. This is further complicated by short sighted political policies and a funding system that limits making education a priority in a financial sense.

The way most educators have been trained is for teaching in a previous century. Because the skills that are now required of people have changed the way we approach learning, and teaching must change as well in order to prepare kids with those needed skills. Many educators have not and cannot any longer keep up with all that they need to in order to remain relevant.

If we are to change the system we need to continually educate the educators. Professional development must become a significant priority. It must be part of the profession of education, and it needs to be a part of every teacher’s work week. If we want to change the way we teach our kids, we have to change the way we teach their teachers.”

Chris Wejr is an elementary principal in Vancouver British Columbia who recently spoke at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference in Seattle.

“Immediate change in education needs to focus primarily on the motivational and engagement needs of our students. The two realistic key starting points for me centre on curriculum and assessment. To build upon dialogue currently occurring in British Columbia, we need to create more “space” in the curriculum. By doing this, we allow both students and teachers the opportunity to dive deeper into an area of content or competency in which they are interested thereby increasing relevancy and engagement.

In addition, moving from an assessment mindset of “teaching and testing” to one of coaching will provide more of a learning, rather than memorizing and grade-getting, environment for students. In between the summative assessments (tests, quizzes, etc), push the focus to descriptive feedback and ongoing coaching dialogue that does not minimize learning to a number or letter. Without engagement, we cannot have real learning; by providing more space in the curriculum and focusing on descriptive feedback we can not only increase student motivation but also continually challenge our students to grow as learners.”

Eric Sheninger is an educational technology expert. He and his staff at New Milford High School progressively use technology in their educational practices. He is a nationally recognized educational presenter.

“Taking a cue from Ghandi, we need to be the change that we want to see in education. As educators we are faced with two choices, either fall in line with educational reforms dictated by individuals and special interest groups who do not and have not worked in schools, or carve out our own paths that are in the best interests of our students.

Change in education is often viewed as a long, difficult, drawn-out process with the end result not being sustainable. Yes, change can be difficult, but if we are to truly transform how we teach and students learn then we must be willing to work together while acknowledging that this process will be fraught with obstacles. As we have moved from change to transformation at New Milford High School, I have found the following elements to be integral to success of many of our current initiatives. They include the following:

1. Modeling
2. Empowering staff through autonomy.
3. Shift from buy-in to embracement
4. Flexibility
5. Support (resources, professional development)
6. Shared decision-making
7. Encouraging risk-raking
8. Eliminating the fear of failure.
9. Positive reinforcement.”

Nationally known leadership expert Todd Whitaker needs no introduction. His books, including his latest Shifting the Monkeys, and presentations are a favorite among educational leaders and teachers. His one liners can instantly make any educator change their thinking.

“We hear so much about ‘change’ in education - from every direction. Yet isn’t what we really need improvement? Rather than continually starting over perhaps it makes sense to build on the positives we have.

What if our goal was to have all of our schools be like our best schools? What if we strove to have all of our teachers become like our best teachers? This is so much more realistic and accomplishable then continuing to start from scratch. We have examples everywhere or excellence in our schools. We just need to replicate it, not reinvent it.”

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.


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)