Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion Blog

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

Education Opinion

Monologue Or Dialogue: How Do You Lead?

By Peter DeWitt — November 23, 2014 4 min read

Adults have a habit of thinking they are engaging in dialogue, when they are really just engaging in individual sessions of monologue.

Dialogue, John Hattie (2012) says, is so much more powerful than monologue. Done correctly, it can be engaging and informative. It involves dissecting, debate and discussion...real discussion. Too often we are on the receiving end of monologue. This does not just mean a school leader giving a directive at a faculty meeting, but it can mean staff members who don’t listen to input and only offer monologue of their own.

A little over a month ago, I was part of a five member group who organized an Edcamp. It was a year in the making. Along with friends who I met through my personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter, we planned out many of the details of our Edcamp that was held in Queensbury, hometown.

An edcamp is an unconference. Yes, I know how that sounds, but in an era of increased accountability and compliance, there are many of us looking for ways to think outside the box....yes, that is still allowed.

At an edcamp, there is no keynote speaker, and everyone who shows up is offered the opportunity to present. Everyone has a voice. Collectively, we provided the space and schedule, and everyone who showed up did the work. Although the crowd was small, it was great to be among people who wanted to give up a Saturday to talk about education. In the end, they were able to offer colleagues they didn’t know some practical tips on what to do when they returned to their classroom or school on the following Monday.

As I walked away from the edcamp experience, I thought about how much we are missing out on when we do not look for ways to bring in the collective thoughts of a group. It doesn’t matter whether we are leaders, teachers or educators who run workshops. We can all learn from those experiences, especially when everyone has a voice.

Partnership Approach

Instructional coaching expert Jim Knight, someone I work closely with, has spent years talking about the partnership approach to teaching and learning. The partnership approach involves not putting yourself above everyone just because you have the title. Having the title does not afford you the right to put everyone below you. It actually, should put the onus on the leader to find ways to encourage everyone to speak.

According to Knight, the Partnership Approach involves the following principles:

  • Equality - In many schools we have a class system. The principal is above teachers, who are above aides, who are above custodial and cafeteria staff. That dynamic, if perpetuated by everyone in the school, threatens the very climate of the school system. Collectively, everyone has something to offer. For example, custodial or cafeteria staff may live in the community or have been part of the building for many years, and they have seen good changes and bad. They are not immune to it because of their “position.”
  • Choice - It’s something we do not have enough of these days. Many teachers are being expected to teach the same curriculum. Are they allowed to teach it differently? If we didn’t value choice, our grocery stores would look very different.
  • Voice - Student voice and teacher voice is vitally important. Unfortunately, some administrators only want to shut down the voice of the teachers who disagree with them. I’m not talking about adults complaining...I’m referring to the ability to speak up on issues.
  • Dialogue - Adults have a habit of thinking they are engaging in dialogue, when they are really just engaging in individual sessions of monologue. Do we really listen?
  • Reflection - True reflection involves knowing where we went wrong or right...and then doing something about it.
  • Praxis - Whatever we learn from our reflection that we put into practice immediately.
  • Reciprocity - We can all learn from one another...if we are open to it. Lately, it seems that leadership teaches us what not to do.

Clearly, we understand that adults can get caught in what Hattie refers to as the Politics of Distraction, which are the adult issues that surrounded us in the field of education. It is vitally important that the group has a set of norms in order to work collectively together in a positive manner, and at some point that may involve moving forward even though not everyone in the group gets what they want...but at least have been heard and their ideas have been taken into consideration.

Edcamp Model at Faculty Meetings?

In a Tweet during #Satchat, Nicholas Provenzano said it best

We should be far passed the old faculty meetings where the principal talks and the teachers sit and listen. Stop the sit and get. Most teachers entered into education because they wanted to make a difference in the lives of students. They are professionals with a great deal of experience and education. When did we come to a time when we decided they were not worth listening to? Is it merely because they may not agree with the changes being made?

Compliance is a slippery slope.

When we ignore the voices of the people we work with, especially the ones who do not agree with us, we are missing out on the opportunity to make a decision stronger. When we force teachers to sit and get at meetings without asking them for their input, we are putting our students at risk of having the same experience of not be listened to in the classroom. What’s worse is that we are missing out on better ideas because of the collective power of the group.

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.


Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
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
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read