School & District Management Opinion

Leadership Challenges: Solutions Are in Each Educator, School, and District

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 25, 2015 5 min read
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How we think about things makes a difference in how we feel and act. With so much going on with weather and in the throes of a presidential campaign, predictions and what actually happens can surely hold surprises and insights. We have the opportunity to hear some revealing thinking. Comments like “The storm is making it impossible for us to...” reminds us of thinking like, “Fox are killing my chickens.” Nature preceded us and will outlive us. It is a wonderful thing to live in a house on a body of water, or on a mountain. But weather was here before we were so to expect no storm to affect the water levels or the mudslides is both common and ill advised. How we think about things makes a difference in the experience we have.

One of the most draining aspects of school leadership is expecting one outcome and getting another. Most often this is a result of lack of initial understanding of the problem, a flaw in planning or lack of agility in making corrections in the plan when needed. The truth is, if we think about it well enough, most of us are able to project possible problems, questions, and opposition that will be faced. Another truth is, too often, time is spent afterwards in Monday morning quarterbacking and not before. Just like the weather and the fox, if we build our houses and gather our animals in a new environment, known eventualities won’t be such surprises. Resentment and frustration will be limited or eliminated if the planning is realistic with regard to eventualities.

Teacher and Principal Evaluation is an Example
The increase in the administration of standardized testing and its use in evaluation of students, teachers, and principals is another. Energy has been spent following the implementations of these high stakes changes as leaders have had to address the ire or teachers and parents as the impacts of these changes have played out. An even larger example is found in school reform in general. As the general public, the political officials, and the news have come to believe that schools are failing and need reform, they have successfully begun a campaign, through legislation, to reform schools. This is not new. The word about “we need to improve education” has been “out there” for decades. As a profession, educators have not stepped up to reform from within; rather, the rising waters, fox, and the mudslides have surprised educators. Once the event occurs, some educators stepped up and out with opposition to what is perceived to be unfair requirements. While they are courageously voicing their concerns, we need another group of courageous educators who are willing and able to help figure out a new system in which educators are given the opportunities to learn, change, improve, and be held accountable.

Goals 2000 in 1994 expected that by the year 2000:

  1. All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  3. All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation’s modern economy.
  4. United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
  5. Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  6. Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
  7. The nation’s teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
  8. Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children

There have been many other legislative acts since 1994, but they all have central themes about improved student achievement. That goal is the goal of every teacher and every school leader. So what is the problem? Perhaps it is that as a profession we have done a rather poor job of being transparent about our work. Graduation rates have inched up while standards have been raised and the students have greater social, emotional, and educational needs and readiness levels. All that happened before Race to the Top and some may say, in spite of it.

So What Should We Do Now?
We need to promote the work that is being done with successful results. We need to reveal how teachers are getting “access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills.” We need to review priorities and budgets to be sure ample time and money are set aside so this can take place. None of this can be done without continuous learning on the part of the leadership and the teachers. And, we need to begin newly to ask ourselves tough questions about our work.

Because educators have neither confronted accountability issues and/or made public the nuance of the work done in schools, as a profession, we are surprised at the predators, floods, and mudslides. We can make a difference by doing a better job of becoming part of the public discourse, taking hold of the realities that exist in each district, joining with fellow educators and sharing challenges and solutions and developing a more public voice. We also have to engage partners like never before. The answers are in each educator, in each school, and in each district. Let it be from within our ranks that the solutions arise and are shared with those able to turn it into mandates and laws.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.