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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

Why Did You Become a Leader?

By Peter DeWitt — August 11, 2013 4 min read
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Have you ever been in the room with other educators and felt like you could collectively solve all the world’s problems? The conversations you delve into are all about the topics you care to discuss. You know...the ones you dive into at parties but the people you’re talking to can’t wait to get away from you and are praying that a non-educator comes walking by.

I love talking about education, even if it means talking about the parts of education that I hate, like testing...state and federal accountability...and mandates. It’s how I know I chose the right path for myself, and I love when I can connect with other people who feel the same way.

For three days this month I had the opportunity to spend time with ten other educators from around the country at Corwin Press headquarters in Thousand Oaks, California. We were there to learn from, and with, W. James Popham. Kristin Anderson (professional development guru) and Arnis Burvikovs (one of the world’s greatest editors) put it all together.

Popham has a new book out with Corwin about teacher evaluation called Evaluating America’s Teachers: Mission Possible. It’s really good and it doesn’t shy away from standardized testing and honest talk about accountability.

Remember...accountability isn’t a bad thing until it gets in the hands of people who have little experience in education.

If you’ve ever seen James Popham or read some of his work, you know he is knowledgeable and has a great sense of humor. What made the three days even better was that I had the chance to learn from authors whom I have read (Kelley King, Don Bartalo), and some high powered educators with a great deal of experience.

Every time someone hears that I was spending four days in Southern California, they instantly assume I was surfing or trying to take pictures with celebrities. Ok, almost never did they think I was surfing, and the celebrity thing doesn’t work for me either. However, they did believe that I was relaxing. The three days were about teacher evaluation, and there was very little relaxation. James Popham keeps a frantic pace.

The truth is, I love learning much like all of you love to learn. When I walk into a room, I never think I’m the smartest guy in it; I only think of what I can learn from others. In education, connecting with people is so important. I’m not talking about connecting by giving each other business cards and moving on to the next one who can do something for us. I’m referring to connecting with people in a much more authentic way.

Mentoring New Leaders
Recently George Couros, a Division Principal in Canada, put out a call to leaders to see if they would mentor new leaders in a group called #SAVMP. #SAVMP stands for School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program. Yes, the twist in this program is that these are mentees who are not within our own districts. Some of them are leaders who we may never meet in person. I have to admit, that on top of all of our responsibilities in our daily lives, I second guessed telling George I would do it.

That was for about ten seconds. The idea of connecting with people through Twitter and other social media has been a game changer for me. When we connect with others who are like-minded or stretch our thinking, it makes us better in our own practices. It’s been too easy lately to focus on what is wrong with our profession and the PLN we establish through Twitter can help us continue to focus on everything that is right about our profession.

In addition, when we travel to conferences or Edcamps, our social media PLN’s allow for us to have a better experience when we attend those professional development sessions. We not only are colleagues from afar, we become friends and that is really important...especially now.

Educators have always focused on sharing, which is why I think George’s idea is so important. So, with good intentions I reached out to the mentees. Kelly Schofield in North Carolina, Adam Welcome in California, and Karen Norton in Arkansas. They all have been leading their schools for three years or less.

The awesome thing about any mentoring experience, whether it’s within our own districts or through social networking, is what we can learn together. It helps our understanding of different educational issues much stronger and helps us branch out and try new things, like creating relationships through social media...

Why I Became an Educator
George asked us all to write a blog about why we became educators. I’m the kind of guy that likes to make connections in my learning. I could not help to see the connections between working with W. James Popham and ten other people in California for three days, and diving into a mentoring relationship with three leaders from across the U.S.

I became an educator because I loved kids, and because I loved to learn from others. For the first 18 years of my life I struggled in all academic areas in school. I secretly waited to walk out of the lower level classes I took because I was embarrassed someone would see me come out of the classroom. When it came to test-taking I had the self-fulfilling prophecy that I would fail...and I did.

School was not always kind to me, and it wasn’t necessarily due to my teachers. It was also due to the fact that I didn’t take ownership over my learning and was lost. I want a different experience for our students. Connecting with people at conferences, seminars and through social media will make me better at what I do as a leader. I became an educator because, after so many years of struggling, I can’t turn off the switch that controls my learning. And I’m excited to be around people who feel the same way.

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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.