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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

What Can We Do About Our Racial and Pandemic Educational Issues?

By Peter DeWitt — June 14, 2020 6 min read
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Nine years ago, I began writing this Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week. It started out as a blog focusing on social-emotional learning with about 200 readers a month. As important as social-emotional learning is, especially these days, it wasn’t the only topic I wanted to focus on. If you’re like me, there are countless educational topics you’re interested in, and we never seem to be able to find them in one place. With that in mind, my editor and I started to expand on the topics I wrote about.

It seems as though the last few months have been a surreal experience. When scrolling through my Instagram feed one day, I saw an advertisement for a T-shirt that said, “2020 Sucks.” I understand that many people have that sentiment because of the pandemic and our societal unrest, but the reality is that this is our current reality, and I would rather we learn from it than have it all go away and get back to normal. The other part of that reality is our normal from before the pandemic wasn’t that great for everyone, and the pandemic and societal unrest is bringing about discussions for changes that are badly needed.

Take these for example...

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about six reasons students were not showing up for online learning, which you can read here. During that time, it was so easy to blame students and their families for their lack of engagement in school, but I felt that there were deeper reasons why, and the blame game never particularly works when trying to figure out a situation.

A few weeks later, after surveying several hundred students from four countries, I wrote a blog addressing what they wanted us to know about pandemic teaching and learning, which you can read here. Let’s face it, what we experienced during March, April, and May in many school districts around the world was pandemic teaching and learning, not true remote learning. We just were not prepared. Student surveys provided important insight into what they want in their pandemic teaching experience.

We have certainly heard from the adults when it comes to pandemic teaching and learning.

As we move to the summer, many adults talk about how much they hate online learning at the same time they talk about their concern for students falling behind. The problem is that we have some control over both situations. We know that remote learning will never be as good as in-person learning for most of us, but if we go into these situations always talking about how bad it is, it will indeed continue to be bad.

And lastly, the other vitally important topic we are facing right now is that of racial discrimination and hatred in the U.S. This is not a new topic, although many would rather sweep it under the rug than talk about it. It’s important to note that the police may be at the heart of the discussion after the death of George Floyd, but the reality is that many of our schools have not addressed the racial discrimination that takes place every single day in classrooms. We know that zero-tolerance policies are discriminatory, but we also know that the curriculum we teach and the ways we teach it are also discriminatory.

As much as people in other countries would like to point at the U.S. because of our issues (for good reason), we are not the only country that has racism and discrimination. Just ask many indigenous populations around the world.

After the death of George Floyd, we saw widespread protests around the world, and of course, we also saw looting. There were many people who did not want to protest because they don’t feel comfortable protesting, so a recent blog post focused on what else we can do besides protest. Each of us can make changes in our behavior that will lead to a better living situation for everyone.

And that brings me to the next steps forward.

Addressing Our Issues
These days, it’s easy to post our distaste around these issues on social media and move on to the next topic. I’ve seen people call others out for not posting their opposition to issues, but I always wonder if those who post end with just posting. Meaning, they really don’t do anything other than post from the safety of their own home.

I would like to do more than post. So, starting this week, we here at Education Week will have a new web show called “A Seat at the Table,” and I will be the moderator. The show will run every other week from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern (it will also be recorded and available for viewing). My first guest will be Tom Guskey, and we will talk about grading and assessment, both from a pandemic view but also an in-person view. Guskey wrote a very powerful article for Finding Common Ground on grading and assessment during the pandemic, which you can find here. Sign up to gain access to ourdiscussion here.

On July 1, my guest will be Zaretta Hammond. Hammond’s work focuses on culturally responsive teaching and the brain, which you can read more about here. Due to the increasing focus on white privilege, the discussion will surely make some of us uncomfortable, but I believe it’s time for us to be uncomfortable and move on to make sure that we are fighting for equity and equality in our schools and communities. Sign up for access to our discussion here.

In July, I will be moderating a conversation with Carol Dweck. A few years ago, I wrote a blog called Why a Growth Mindset Won’t Work, and Dweck wrote a response Revisiting the Growth Mindset. I believe this will be a very deep conversation. So many teachers and leaders are misusing the growth mindset, and we need to explore how to change that. Basically, we need to have a growth mindset around the growth mindset.

“A Seat at the Table” will be a place where we can talk about race, gender, sexuality, and also focus on instructional strategies, student engagement, and how to build collective efficacy among staff. Each guest will bring something different to each educational conversation, and we will not just talk philosophy, but action.

Student and Teacher Voice
Within the show, one of the areas we will explore are questions from students and teachers. One of the ways we will do that is with a short segment called A Question From Tevyn. Tevyn is finishing up 7th grade, and we have a lot to learn from him. It’s important not to just hear the questions from Tevyn but also to understand how they relate to what happens in our classroom.

I am inviting teachers to ask questions as well. We will choose a few teachers for each segment to send in a video question. We are looking for questions that get to the heart of our topic, and lead us to a place where we can take actionable steps after learning from our guest. And given all that we have endured during the pandemic, I believe it’s time to take actionable steps toward improvement.

In the End
The show is not about selling the books of authors. The show is about taking major issues we are facing in education, and talking to the people who have the research, or are taking the actionable steps, to solve them. Guests will be researchers, leaders, and practitioners.

I am excited about this show because I am an education geek. Talking about education is one of my favorite things to do, but taking actionable steps after those conversations is now more important than ever. We have enough talk these days. Let’s explore ways to take action.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including his newest release Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020). Connect with him on Twitter or through his YouTube channel.

Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Owira.

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.