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School & District Management Opinion

Leading With Care for Those Who Oppose

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 28, 2017 4 min read
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Educational leaders have a real life leadership lesson to learn from what is happening in our country. With a sharply divided, polarized populace, we wonder how this nation will be brought together. Labels are tossed about to demean and discredit. With no agreement on facts, everyone searches for “the news” that supports only their pre-existing opinion. And, it will probably continue to get worse. President Trump, shrewdly, saw a path the rest of us hadn’t noticed and he took over as if the nation were a driverless car. We are right where he wanted us to be. There are people who love chaos and while others spin like tops, they take advantage of the spinning. He is one of those. So, here we are...Who are we? We believe anyone who wants to see clearly is suffering from the dust storm.

Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what happens when good people don’t take action. Well, in summary, that is the Democratic Party failure. With less than full enthusiasm about Hillary, many were not sufficiently motivated to get involved. So, as good people sat by and believed “it” couldn’t happen, it did. Social media is a territory where truth doesn’t matter and the outrageous gets more attention. It is a perfect environment for the dust spinner and the chaos maker. Many of us have felt the impact of that in our local schools.

Let’s think about how leadership turnover happens. Trump followers aren’t all racists and they are not all hateful people. They wanted change, a disruption of the status quo. It has come upon us fast. They wanted entertainment and we have it in abundance. They wanted Obama’s alter ego and we got it. This is not a new pattern to those of us who watch schools.

A Lesson and a Warning
In school communities, there are almost always differences of opinions. Especially over fiscal and personnel issues, they can become hotly contested. Sometimes there are attempts at consensus but boards function, as do all policy bodies in our democracy, on majority rule. But here is the lesson and the warning. The one who wins cannot forget those who lose. If there develops a pattern of those who are being left out, trust the coffee shop or the bowling alley or weekly press or someone on social media to begin to rally those impacted into an opposition. We think that is what happened nationally. The ‘other side’ was overlooked and, maybe, even excluded in the Obama years. It took a while, and a champion, but they rose up with voices and volume level we can’t turn down.

We wonder how many Democrats were thinking of the other half of the nation (or 3 million less than half of those who voted) over the last 8 years? Now the gains made are being assaulted, not just the policies and the regulations but also the standards of ethics and the demeanor the discourse.The depth of the outrage hurts and the anger has flipped from one excluded group to another.

Let this be a lesson to leaders. While we happily went along accepting laws and mandates we believed in, there was the other half who were feeling slighted and ignored. We paid them no mind. Neither did those in power. We can and must be smarter than this when we lead locally.

Small Steps With More Inclusion
The concept of compromise upon which our early nation was built has become a dirty word. The Congress has become dysfunctional, broken into the party in power and the opposition one. Progress except under executive orders became minimal. Now, the pen is in the other hand and the nation finds itself on a pendulum swing. How might it have been different if there were people on both sides of the aisle who could reach across the aisle? How might it have been different if there was a relentless effort on the part of the President and the party leaders to reach out and include? Less movement might have happened on issues but perhaps small steps with more inclusion has a better chance of surviving leadership changes.

Lead by Uniting
Power, positional, situational, or otherwise, can lull one into forgetting that no power is absolute in this democracy. Power lives also in the opposition and in the minority. How often has time been spent, for example, to reach out after a budget vote to those who voted against a school budget? Against a capital project? What about those who speak out against the funding of a club, a team, or a new curriculum? Dissenters, especially when their dissent does not yield the result for which they hoped, remain in the community. We have seen over and over the dissenter who becomes a board member, haven’t we? A school community, like our country, cannot make progress when it is fractured. As we watch what is happening in the country it is an opportunity to reflect on what is happening in schools and districts. The result of eschewing that practice is seen in what is happening within our nation now.

We hope for an awakening that reunites us and moves us back to our core values. We hope it does not take a catastrophe to cause us to come together. We hope we do not have to find and enemy against whom we can coalesce. A divided nation, like a divided life, is not healthy. Neither is such a profound sadness that hope gets smothered. We can make a difference. We are leaders and communities see us appropriately that way, not because of power but because of purpose and principles. Let schools be a place where children and adults teach and learn and lead in a model where inclusion of the ‘other’ is lived, where respect is freely given.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Illustration by johnhain courtesy of Pixabay

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.