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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

Is There Really That Much Drama In Schools?

By Peter DeWitt — September 16, 2018 6 min read
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While we were in high school, or even as far back as elementary and middle school, it probably never occurred to us that the same drama we experienced as students was probably happening between teachers or the school administration as well. We never took time to think those who worked in the school would behave as badly as we did when we were students. However, drama is something that doesn’t just happen with students. Drama shows itself in the adult relationships in school as well.

Why?

There are numerous reasons why adults who work in the school do not always get along. Perhaps it’s based on the individual ideals of the different people working in the school, but the conflict we see play out on Facebook often is the same type of conflict that plays out in real life in hallways, classrooms...and the faculty room in schools. People come from different backgrounds, with different ideas about what teacher-student relationships should look like, or classroom management techniques to use with those students; perhaps even different ideas on teaching strategies, or those responsibilities that come with teaching and leading looks like.

We have leaders who are top-down, or schools with strong personalities in union leadership. We have teachers who take on every responsibility thrown at them and others who lack the self-efficacy to take on very much at all. Additionally, many of us who work in schools feel very passionate about students or content, and when someone questions our impact on either one of those we become defensive or want to die on our sword in some sort of martyr sacrifice.

And lastly, schools are dramatic places because of the rhetoric that takes place on the outside. We have a slew of secretaries of education at the national level who seem clueless about education, and we have state education departments that throw mandates after mandates at teachers and leaders to help them “improve” with the next shiny new toy.

All of this takes place while we are supposed to worry about building collective efficacy, raise test scores, teach rigorous academic curriculum and educate students on the topic of social-emotional learning. Yes, there is much more drama taking place in schools than your favorite reality television show, and it all takes place at the same time we are supposed to be focusing on learning.

A Different Kind of Educational Book
As a former teacher and principal, and present day writer and consultant, I understand the drama of schools very well. Before becoming a consultant, I experienced budget cuts, teacher layoffs, school consolidations, high stakes testing pressures (Don’t Worry About Those Test Scores!) increased accountability and mandates, pressure from the state education department when I spoke out against them (The Story of An Offending Blog), and many of the critical issues we still face in education.

Don’t get me wrong, I have also experienced the positive side of education much more than the negative side. I have had the good fortune of working with great teachers, success of being in a strong school community, and have created long lasting relationships with students, families and teachers that have had a profound impact on my life. All schools may see negative situations, but so many positive experiences play out in schools as well.

As a consultant, I have come up against principals who were not very good leaders, work with teachers who were amazing at their craft, and learned from some of the most influential educational researchers in the world. I have seen groups come together for the greater good, and those who broke apart because they believed their idea was better than someone else on their team and no longer wanted to work together. So, I decided to do something different than write an educational book, I decided to write a narrative story focusing on leadership coaching, and helping a new principal negotiate his way through the drama of his first year as a principal...some of that drama was caused by him.

So, I decided to take all of the lessons I learned through that drama, research, and relationship building, and put it in a book titled Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership. And it all starts with one principal who finds out that he needs a coach.

The Story of Gavin
The book focuses on one first-year principal named Gavin Young. Gavin is the new principal of Naylor Middle School which is a suburban school district charged with educating 754 students, and we know that leading any new school has its positive and negative moments.

In his leadership courses, Gavin learned about instructional leadership and building collective efficacy, but in reality, he is struggling because his school culture and climate are both not very positive.

During the interview and beginning weeks on the job during the summer when students and teachers were not there Gavin was ready to take on the challenges. However, when everyone came back for their first day of school, Gavin found that new leadership doesn’t always equate to a brand new start.

He began blaming his predecessor and teachers for the issues he faced, and found that his insecurities were taking over, which meant that he was also becoming more of a dictator and less of a collaborator. Then, one morning his superintendent talked with him about having a leadership coach, which he agreed to because it seemed to be a voluntold situation. However, he was resistant to the help because he felt that his superintendent now saw him as weak.

As Gavin and his coach Michelle negotiated their way through the beginning stages of coaching, they began to take on all of the complexities of leading a school, which meant that they had to focus on establishing one goal.

Establishing on goal is not an easy venture given that schools are such dramatic places that include people who seem to like drama, including one unhappy and undermining assistant principal who believes Gavin robbed him of “his job

And of course, Gavin also has to learn how to collaborate with staff, take on social-emotional learning and trauma, at the same time he tries to build relationships and foster collective efficacy. The book is based on real-life situations that play out across many schools, and illustrates the complexities of leading and teaching.

Why Focus On Coaching?
As someone who worked with instructional coaching expert Jim Knight and trained several thousand coaches around North America, I began to see that coaching is a complex issue. Coaching, is supported by research, but drilling down to one goal that will have a positive impact on all of our issues is not easily done.

In the book, Gavin has so many complex issues to take on, because schools are complex places, that I found coaching was a good focus for the book. I didn’t just want to write an educational book with facts, figures and research. I wanted to take those facts, figures and research and weave them into a dramatic story that you could enjoy and learn at the same time.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017), and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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.

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