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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

Learning From Our Mistakes

By Peter DeWitt — January 11, 2012 4 min read

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.” Al Franken

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about our present state of affairs; whether we are looking at education, politics or the economy. I wondered what lessons our students are learning from all of these situations that surround us. As I watch the news, scan the comments on Twitter or read Facebook messages, I have sensed a great deal of anger, and admit that I have contributed to that from time to time. It’s easy to get frustrated and send out a quick message. It takes a lot longer to take that message back.

There is a great deal of noise out there in education. High stakes testing, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), equitable funding and teacher/administrator accountability are just a few of the hot topics. As I reflect on how we got here, I realized that some of our colleagues past and present are partly responsible for our present situations. I am not blaming teachers or administrators and I understand that there are many people in power who have abused that power as we blissfully moved through our lives. What I mean is that we have to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to properly move forward through our present and into the future.

In the past, there was a time in education when states did not have standards and now most states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards. Whether some educators like them or not, they are here to stay for some time. Not having any standards is as concerning as is having too many that prevent us from having some academic freedom. Hopefully through real conversations between all stakeholders, the CCSS will evolve into standards that will help our students become successful. Unfortunately, not all states are giving guidance on how to map out these standards which means that there remains a great deal of inequity in what is being done in schools.

Many schools across the country make much better decisions for their students but those schools are lost in the noise that comes from the other schools that do not make good decisions. It’s just like teachers who do amazing things with kids but their stories get lost in all the stories of teachers who do not do a good job with kids. There is too much of a focus on the failures of education and not enough focus on the successes. Unfortunately, the negative situations that were not properly taken care of are some of the very reasons why we are all held accountable.

One of the mistakes that I hope we can learn from is when it comes to blanket rules. Blanket rules can be destructive to a school climate. For example, if a teacher is consistently late picking their kids up from a special, then the principal should talk with the teacher. They should not send out a mass e-mail to all teachers saying they should be on time for specials because the reality is that not all teachers are late. I learned that from having common sense and also through reading Todd Whitaker. School districts across the country are being held to blanket rules for issues that have nothing to do with them.

Learning from the Opinion of Others
Two of the readers that post comments on my blog are Dr. John Bennett, a professor at UConn, and Cooper Zale, a parent from Los Angeles. John asks me many questions that I cannot always answer. I try my best to look for answers because I know he really wants to help make our education system better. Cooper is on the opposite side of the spectrum when talking about education, because he did not have a good experience in the public school system. At first I didn’t appreciate his comments because I felt as though he didn’t like public education. After numerous e-mails back and forth I realized he has a great deal of respect for education. His opinions made me think differently. There is a great deal of power in listening to those who disagree with us.

It is possible for someone to respect education even if they have an opinion that is different than ours. There are so many different areas of education that need our best thinking and the adults in charge are making the mistake of not listening to those experts around them. Those experts include students, parents, teachers and administrators as well as some people who work for education departments.

It’s unfortunate that the shared decision making process seems to be at a standstill in many states, because both the state education departments (SED) that govern our states and the public school systems in those states have a great deal of good. Many SED’s have been establishing rules to safeguard all students when many schools are not doing that. Many schools are trying to be innovative with their assessments, when SED’s seem to be lacking in innovation in that department.

We are at a point in education in many states where the education department is going in one direction and schools want to go in another. To keep moving in opposite directions is a mistake that we all need to learn from. Our differences have gotten us here, and it’s time to put those aside and work toward finding some solid educational solutions for our students. At the same time we can teach our students that working with peers who are different can make their educational experiences better.

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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.

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