Monday, July 5, 2010

Why We Should Be Working Together

First of all, I want to thank Will for inviting me as a guest blogger.  He is highly invested in conversations about education and where it should be going and what's best for students and teachers.

This post is inspired by an article I read about education reform in Oregon.  The article itself was nothing I hadn't heard before. The author was recommending that budget cuts not be made at the classroom level by cutting teachers and classes like art, physical education and music, but by eliminating costs like textbooks and teacher professional development while also capping the number of charter schools allowed in the state.  I had mixed feelings about some of what she was saying, but did not find the post itself that inspiring.

I had been sent the link by a friend of mine who suggested that I look through the comments. As I scrolled down and began to read, I was shocked.  Commenters were posting mathematical equations and financial numbers justifying why teachers' wages should be cut or frozen or why retirement funds are bankrupting the state and they were blasting teachers and teacher unions.

While I don't pretend to be a banker, financier or an expert in government spending, it seems that the opposite is true.  Everyone who pays taxes assumes that they are an expert on education because, at some point, they went to school.  I'm not saying that taxpayers don't have a say or that we shouldn't be looking to experts in the financial industry for ideas, but schools are not businesses.

What I began to realize while reading the comments was that the biggest problem is a lack of communication across 'sides.'  As educators, we need to understand the perspective of taxpayers, community members and parents.  In return, we need to for community members, parents and taxpayers to understand what teaching children means in today's world, and it is also important that both parties get to know each other as people, as partners in shaping the future.

So my question is: How do we foster these kinds of open dialogues?

photo courtesy of mynameisharsha on Flickr


  1. One of the things I found very quickly in my current job is that I had many different people who were absolutely sure they knew exactly how I should do my job. Of course, few of them were in agreement with each other about it, but that didn't matter.

    What did matter, in the end, was that my first approach has been to listen first. In almost all cases, when someone had an opinion, they were content when it was heard. They didn't always need me to agree, or even accept it, just to acknowledge that I'd taken the point into consideration. Then when I shared my decision, with a rationale, I had support because they knew I understood.

    I think that's the starting point to open the dialogue: first, just listen.

  2. Your way of handling your situation is a model for all of us. I find that when we think we 'know the answer' we are quick to interrupt or contradict. Sometimes the best we can do is just acknowledge the other side. Who knows, maybe we'll actually have a change of heart!

  3. MB,

    Thanks for initiating such an important discussion.... First and foremost, all stakeholders must come to the table as honest brokers - recognizing the experiences and contributions of the other parties involved. If the students are what matters the most, then each party has to be willing to set aside their ego and before beginning to discuss real solutions. Lastly, parents have to stop defending behavior they know is wrong. Teachers and administrators have to view parents and the surrounding community as allies, and the fed and the business establishment need to stop advocating for policies that are vehemently opposed by educational professionals.

    So, how do we accomplish this? I don't have the answers. But, I do know that the system can't take a continued fight for territory. Hell, our country can't handle that fight. If we don't get it together, there is going to be a whole generation of students who won't be prepared for this new economy.

  4. Will,

    It's starting sound that adults need to (gasp) start acting like adults. We, the adults need to stop and remember why education exists in the modern age. It is no longer a training ground for factory workers. Education is now, more than any other time in history, more about the children and their needs. It is now more about cultivating our students into the future leaders of a world that is growing smaller and smaller every day.

    Thanks, again, for the opportunity to post here, and thanks for the comment!

  5. MB,

    Anytime. I am honored to have such a seasoned educator and blogger write for peoplegogy. I always love reading your blog, and I look forward to reading more of your posts here.