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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.

Teaching Profession Opinion

11 Critical Issues Facing Educators in 2023

Schools need support, not criticism, to meet all their challenges
By Peter DeWitt — December 04, 2022 5 min read
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For several years, I wrote a list of 10, 11, or even 15 critical issues facing education at the end of a year to give a glimpse into issues to consider for the following year. Then COVID happened and blew my last list of issues up. Why? Because it never occurred to me to put a pandemic on the list of critical issues in 2019.

We have educational issues to consider every year that also highlight what teachers, leaders, and students face. Education has often been a dumping ground for criticism of educators who are tasked with teaching children content, feeding them when they come in hungry because they live in poverty or are homeless, and, at the same time, practicing school safety drills because students and teachers have to prepare for fending off the next school shooter.

Television shows and movies poke fun at educators and school, politicians have “plans” about how they can do it better, although the large majority of them ever step foot in a school since they graduated. During all of that “entertainment,” educators are supposed to just go in and do their jobs for the love of education and children.

And that’s exactly what they do.

11 Issues for 2023

These issues were chosen based on the number of times they came up in stories on Education Week or in workshops and coaching sessions that I do in my role as a leadership coach and workshop facilitator.

For full disclosure, some of the issues will be difficult to read, but they are the reality for teachers, leaders, staff, and students around the country. With that being said, the issues on the list are not exhaustive, and as always, if you have an issue to add to the list, find me on social media and let me know which ones are a top priority for you.

Guns – Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control shows that firearms are the leading cause of death for children. This research study cites the CDC report and says there were 45,222 total firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020, and around 10% of those were children and teens. Just to be intentional, because people will accuse me of a political argument, what this has to do with schools is the fact that the children who are killed or injured are our students. These deaths and this topic have an enormous impact on schools.

Politics in education – In the last couple of years, school leaders and teachers have had to fight rumors about teaching critical race theory, and we know states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Florida have governors or secretaries of education who want to ban conversations around equity, race, and social-emotional learning. Politics have always been a part of education, but the last few years have brought an increased level of it into our classrooms and schools.

Social-emotional learning – Critics believe that social-emotional learning is about indoctrinating students, which is wholly inaccurate. Social-emotional learning is about teaching students about empathy and how to self-regulate their behavior so they can better deal with stress and anxiety. This will continue to be an issue playing out in schools, and we will see work by researchers like Marc Brackett and his team at Yale be at the forefront of this issue.

The Flu – I’m not putting this on the list because I didn’t anticipate COVID in 2019. It’s on the list because, according to the CDC, there are millions of children each year who get the flu. Currently, we know that the respiratory virus RSV has affected millions of children under the age of 5, which does impact preschool- and kindergarten-age children, as well as their siblings or grandparents. Between the flu and RSV, schools will continue to see an increase in student absenteeism. Considering the COVID learning-loss debate that hit schools after COVID, that discourse will only continue. Here’s a recent story written by my Ed Week colleague Evie Blad covering student absences.

De-implementation – This is not as self-serving as it may seem. I say that because I have done a great deal of research on the topic of de-implementation and written a book about it. It’s on the list because it is a topic that school leaders are exploring. No longer should the conversation about workload be one that we push to the side, and de-implementing ineffective practices is a way to make the workload more manageable. Here is a YouTube video with 5 areas to consider when de-implementing.

Substitute teachers – In many states, it is no longer required that substitute teachers have an associate degree. There are states that have lowered the requirement to a high school diploma, yet there is still a shortage of substitute teachers. The lesser standard also brings into question the ability of substitute teachers to cover important core content for students.

Poverty – According to the National Center for Children Living in Poverty, there are 11 million children in that situation. Countless schools around the country are tasked not only with educating students but also feeding them breakfast and lunch as well. During COVID, school leaders, teachers, and staff made bag lunches for these students on a daily basis.

Teacher shortage – My Ed Week colleague Madeline Will recently wrote a story highlighting just how bad the teacher shortage is in the United States. However, this is not just a problem in the United States. Countries around the world are experiencing the same issue. Please check out this article by Ed Week reporter Caitlynn Peetz for the sobering statistics behind this issue.

Teacher-prep programs – Not only should there be conversations about how colleges and universities are preparing our nation’s teachers, but a big issue for 2023 is how those same colleges and universities are recruiting prospective teachers to enter the profession in the first place.

Tutoring programs – With a lot of coverage about COVID learning loss, tutoring as a means of “catching kids up” is going to be a big topic in 2023. Education Week is planning to do a series of articles and provide research on the topic, and I will be moderating a conversation on the topic for A Seat at the Table in 2023.

A love for learning – I know this sounds hokey, but it’s not. There are countless teachers, leaders, and staff trying to inspire a love for learning for themselves and their students. Too often, education is seen as a system of compliance rather than an institution of inspiration and creativity. We need to change that in 2023. Will the political rhetoric allow us to do that?

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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