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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Well-Behaved Educators Rarely Make History

By Peter DeWitt — May 09, 2013 6 min read
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There is a spectrum of opponents to corporate reform. There are those who complain about it behind closed doors and do nothing, others who have a couple of issues that they would like to focus on, and those who are fighting every single aspect of change happening to schools (i.e. technology, testing, curriculum, etc.). Everyone has their breaking point but if we’re not careful, our message will get lost.

As I see it, high stakes testing, how it’s tied to teacher and administrator evaluation, and a lack of equitable funding are our three biggest issues. These issues have created numerous negative scenarios. Teachers feel stifled, and children are at risk of being educated on a production line. Although many teachers and school leaders are taking one step forward and trying to innovate through all of this, mandates and accountability force them to take two steps back.

Risk-Taking...Not Rule Following
Educators are rule followers by nature. It’s just who they are. They believe following rules is an important part of learning. This goes for administrators as well. Unfortunately, many administrators enforce rules they don’t believe in. They abide by rules in the hallway and complain about them behind closed doors. That rule following doesn’t create necessary change and its helping make education worse.

But what can educators do? They don’t want to lose funding. They don’t want to get in “trouble.”

Many teachers don’t feel as though they can speak out for a variety of reasons. They may not know where to begin, have a deep fear of saying something negative, or have an unsupportive administrator. They fear being moved to another school or being given an unfair observation that punishes them for being too vocal. Some administrators are fearful too. They work for superintendents who are too political and care less about speaking out against mandates and accountability that is unfair to students.

Where has rule following gotten public education? There is a great quotation that says, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” The same is true for well-behaved educators.

Do Educators Know What to Fight for?
Unfortunately, to make matters more complicated, there are educators who fight against everything. When that happens it just plays into the idea that the public school system doesn’t get it. People use words like “monopoly” and “status quo.” However, when we don’t have a game plan for our issues we look just as bad.

Rallies are awesome. We show up and get inspired by speakers. We feel like people understand our issues. We walk away knowing that others care as deeply as we do. What happens next?

• Does each individual go back to their schools and get waylaid by school work.
• Do others go back and get stifled while some go back and begin to write letters and blogs?
• The fight only works when people are working toward a unified goal.

One of the best examples of educators fighting against something that is harmful for kids and the teaching profession is the New York Principal Movement. Written by Sean Feeney and Carol Burris, it started as a letter vocalizing concerns. It has been signed by thousands of educators who believe high stakes testing is bad for students and having it tied to administrator and teacher evaluation is even worse.

New York Principals, which involves educators from all backgrounds, have a collective voice and one mission. That mission is to stop high stakes testing from being tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

Teachers, parents and administrators need to know what to do first. It’s like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest before the climb. They need to take their first step. Everyone affected by education should show up to the rallies that are happening around the country, but they need to know what to after the rally as well.

Where Should Educators Begin:
Join a Rally - There are rallies around the country. Join one. You will meet colleagues from all over the state or nation. Make contact with people and follow up afterward.
Blog - Write about the issues that are happening in your classroom or school. You don’t have to use specific names but you do have First Amendment rights.
Social Media - Twitter brings educators together. Educators from around the world talk through 140 characters. It’s a great way to learn from other educators and talk about issues. It’s also a great way to learn about events that are happening near you.
In addition to Twitter, Facebook spreads the message as well. Many people may not “Like” or comment on your posts but they are reading them.
Board Resolutions - Encourage your board of education to sign a resolution against high stakes testing.
Write your Politicians - e-mail, fax, and write your local politicians. Pressure them to do something. Educators make up a very large voting public and they know it. Actions speak louder than words so make sure they are not just providing you lip-service.
Stop Relying on Textbooks - Some of your colleagues just want a textbook that will tell them what to do next. If you don’t believe that, you’re not paying attention. Try to encourage them to not use textbooks. There are other options (i.e. leveled readers, on-line sources, news magazines, etc.)
Use a Variety of Publishers - Publishers have been making money off of schools for decades and that will not stop anytime soon. Although not relying on textbooks won’t get educators away from all publishing companies, you can balance out which publishers you use. Pearson doesn’t have to be the name on everything you use.
E-mail State Ed - Seriously, you should. We get those insane memos all the time. If you have questions or concerns about the memos, e-mail those state ed administrators who are sending them. You have a right to ask questions.

Michelle Smead, a teacher in upstate, NY created a Top Ten list of why people need to attend the education rally at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY on June 8th. In addition, the staff of Poestenkill Elementary School (upstate, NY) created a video to the tune of “March With Us Maybe?”

TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:
10.You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.
9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.
8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.
7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!
6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.
5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.
4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.
3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.
2. You work in (Insert your own school district.) and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!
1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn’t it!

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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.