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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

Leadership 360: Are We Recycling the Same Conversations?

By Peter DeWitt — September 05, 2014 4 min read
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Have you ever had that person in your life that seems to talk about the same issues over and over again. It’s like it’s Groundhog Day 20 years later and the issue of politics or relationships come up as though nothing has changed over those decades? As a former school principal I used to sit through budget meetings for the months leading up to the all important budget vote, and the comments from the public or some board members seemed to focus on the same topic every time.

It was as if it was they woke up and said, “It’s May 12th. We should go to the board meeting tonight and talk about...” Even though their questions were answered the year before, they seem to ask them again to see if they got a different answer.

It’s sort of like the Emmys when Ricky Gervais hosted. The first time he was so brutal with his comments that entertainment shows focused on his monologue for months after, and when he went to host for the 2nd time, he began by saying “Ok. Where did I leave off?

In education, we know where we left off.

We seem to recycle the same conversations when it comes to education. I guess it’s human nature to talk about the same topics from time to time, but we seem to have the same issues in education that we have had for decades. To prove that fact, we need only to go over to the Leadership 360 blog that my friends Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers write for Education Week.

For full disclosure I have known Jill and Ann for a few years. Jill graduated from the Sage Doctoral Program a year behind me, and Ann created the program because she saw a need for school leaders to further their education and grow as practioners through a cohort model. The conversations we had in the program are the ones we often write about now.

It’s not that we never have answers. We just don’t happen to like the answers that people give, so we continue to ask the same questions until we get the answers we want. In an effort to highlight that, Jill and Ann have been doing something pretty unique on their Leadership360 blog.

Jill and Ann created Throw Back Thursday (#TBT), where every Thursday they write about an issue we are facing in education, which also happens to be one we were facing decades ago. It’s in the spirit of Throw Back Thursday that we see on Facebook. On the Leadership360 blog, Jill and Ann wrote,

#tbt has come to Leadership360! On Thursdays, we will highlight an issue that was making headlines 20 years or more ago. We'll examine the status of that issue today and wonder with our readers about what has changed and what has not. We welcome feedback and ideas."

It’s a brilliant idea, and one that illustrates how far we have not been able to move forward in education.

Jill and I were at the Education Week headquarters a few months ago and they had an old copy of Education Week from the 80’s (Education Week started in 1981). Jill, with the light bulb over her head, looked at me and said, “It’s amazing that we are still talking about these issues. We should do some sort of Throw Back Thursday,” She and Ann took it from there.

So far they have explored:

  • Abolishing the Education Department
  • Being fired for being gay
  • Teacher tenure
  • Raising standards
  • Achievement and assessments
  • The achievement gap

All of these topics are hot button issues for us now, but they were hot button issues in the 80’s and 90’s. Why is it that we keep debating topics decade after decade? How is it that we have never moved forward? How do our adult issues always seem to be an obstacle to talking about what really matters, which is learning.

John Hattie often discusses the Politics of Distraction. Standards, achievement and tenure are debates adults have that take the focus off of learning. We all seem to be stuck in conversations that have been around for many years. Doesn’t that make you a bit angry?

As teachers enter classrooms to work with students, they have to leave the distractions behind them, which is not easy. They need to work with each other to put their focus on learning, and they need to make sure they are including students and parents in those discussions.

Unfortunately, like an anchor...these outside influences become more and more distracting as time goes on. It seems as though topics like teacher evaluation and high stakes testing have only gotten worse over the years, and it they have not lead to any vast improvements in what we do as educators.

In the End

Jill and Ann are exploring important topics through their Leadership360 blog. Perhaps the most important topics are the ones they cover on Throw Back Thursday because those are the ones we have not gotten past. Reading the blogs that they have devoted to #TBT should inspire us to work toward ending the debate and moving forward in a positive direction. Sadly, I’m not so sure that will ever happen.

Michael Fullan often says, “Just because you’re stuck with their policies doesn’t mean you should be stuck with their mindsets.” I firmly believe what Michael says is true, and we should continue to move forward despite bad policies, but it’s not easy. The issue seems to be that the same schools that were struggling all along are the ones who are more stuck with bad policies than those schools that can move forward with a positive mindset. Unfortunately, even though we move forward from time to time, we still bring up the same old debates that have never been resolved.

In 20 years when Ann and Jill are still doing #TBT it would be nice if they were exploring more about how far we have come with learning and innovations, and not still finding examples of how we have not been able to move forward.

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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.