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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

Monologue Or Dialogue: How Do You Lead?

By Peter DeWitt — November 23, 2014 4 min read
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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, NY...my 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.

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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.