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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 Has Happened to Common Sense?

By Peter DeWitt — December 27, 2011 5 min read
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We chase who we want to be without ever taking time to figure out who we are.

Educators are bombarded with the “best” “new and improved” ideas in education on a daily basis. Everyone who has a blog (including me) has an idea of how teachers should teach and students should learn. That’s not a bad thing but it is when we make educators feel like our ideas are the only ideas that they should use.

We hear it all the time with our 24/7 resources. Don’t be the “Sage on the Stage” be the “Guide on the Side.” Teach using centered based learning. Whole group lessons do not work. All teachers should be student-centered and not teacher-centered. Teachers need a good textbook to use as a base because without it they may not be able to teach. Or...don’t use textbooks because they are the root of all evil.

What happened to common sense? What happened to finding a balance between student-centered and teacher-centered practices? What happened to teachable moments? Educators spend a year or more with students. Some teachers have students for an hour a day while others spend the whole day with them in a self-contained classroom (i.e. elementary teachers).

There are teachers and administrators who spend hours and hours reading current research to find the best practices. Sometimes that research can be very overwhelming. Just because someone smart is giving advice doesn’t mean that it will work in your classroom. Be cautious of the ideas you read and don’t throw everything out because some people may not like what you are doing. Keep asking yourself, “is it good for kids?”

I applaud all of the educators who join Twitter because it is a truly remarkable resource, but it does not mean that they have to spend hours upon hours on the social networking site because that could be overwhelming and counterproductive to their own thinking. Educators should spend time in their own thoughts and allow students to spend time in their own thoughts! In addition, educators can read journals and educational articles but it does not mean they should be expected to try everything they read in the classroom. Some educators are overwhelmed with the barrage of information flying at them.

We read articles about how Finland is the end all to be all educational system, which I agree that Finland is outstanding. However, the United States does not have to follow everything that Finland does...because we are not Finland! Part of the issue is that we spend too much time trying to be someone else. We chase who we want to be without ever taking time to figure out who we are.

Educators need to spend time within their own thoughts, thinking about how they teach and how their students learn. They need read and reflect on great teaching ideas and decide what will work for their classroom. One size fits all does not work. We need to know where we are...and where we are going.

Here are some things we know:

  • Testing every student on the same day at the same time and not allowing them to talk during a break will not make our educational system better. Sixty minute tests over a six day period are not appropriate for seven year old students.
  • Not all teachers are meeting the needs of their students. Not all administrators are meeting the needs of their teachers and students. Professional development and good mentoring will help some but not all.
  • Every teacher is not failing at their job and should not be held to the same blanket rules of those educators who are not meeting the needs of their students.
  • Every administrator is not failing at their job and are not lurking around every corner to catch students and teachers doing something wrong.
  • Some parents are really bad at raising kids and teach their children things at a young age that they should never ever have to learn.
  • Some parents are really great at raising their children and do all of the things educators want them to do and their children enter school ready to learn every day.
  • Other parents raise their children in a way that educators may not agree with but it does not make them bad parents. It means they have different wants and needs for their children.
  • Most parents want the best for their children, but may not value education in the same way educators do but that does not make them bad parents.

Spend time in education long enough and you will learn that everything you did, and the way you taught, for the first ten years was wrong and you should never do it again because it was harmful to students. Ten years after that you will learn that everything you did in the first ten years will come back as the new fad under a different name or concept and there will be a new organization waiting to sell it to you as their idea.

Common Core Standards are not evil but they will not help every single student either. That is a goal very much like the New York State Education Department’s goal of meeting the needs of all learners by 2013 and ending the need for special education. Those of us living in New York know that never happened.

The Common Core provides a base for teachers and administrators. They may not be the best standards that were ever created but we will never see those because there will always be naysayers who will poke holes in whatever new standards are created. It’s hard to make everyone happy. For example, some educators want specific texts chosen for the curriculum while others want to choose those texts on their own and that should be a local decision.

If we want to bring back some really great educational ideas we need to start with common sense. There will be times when the classroom is teacher-centered. Why? Because they are the teacher! They went to school so that they could understand what students need. There will be other times when the classroom will be student-centered and students will get the chance to choose what they want to learn.

There are times when a great lecture or engaging conversation is all that is needed to get students to learn. Common sense will tell educators when those opportunities arise. State and federal education departments do not see where students come from and do not understand the plight of teachers. In addition, sometimes the administrator in charge of a building doesn’t even understand, or doesn’t try to understand, where students are coming from.

I learned a very important phrase a long time ago when I was a student at a community college. It was called, “it depends” and it changed my thinking for life because I realized that the remedy for the situation depends on the situation. If we take some time to understand student needs and our own teaching practices, then we can figure out the best way to educate our students. However, the first thing we have to start with is a little common sense. Our students are depending on us.

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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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