What You Ignore, You Permit.

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In a recent post titled, Nuggets of Wisdom from Mentors Around the World, many influential educators including Todd Whitaker, Eric Sheninger, Pernille Ripp, Scott McLeod and Lyn Hilt contributed valuable advice passed down from their mentors. One particular nugget of wisdom shared by Sue Dunlop caused an immediate lump in my throat followed by a heavy heart. The advice read:

“What you ignore, you permit.  What you permit, you condone.”

Problems don’t go away when you ignore them. Many times, they become bigger. Soon, they may become “the elephant in the room.” Ignoring an obvious problem or failing to address an issue can cause others to experience concern or uneasiness.

“What you ignore, you permit.  What you permit, you condone.” 

I think if you are honest with yourself, this phrase can cause a disheartened feeling to all but the most distinguished leaders. Issues and problems will arise, however, effective leaders proactively deal with situations while fostering and maintaining a positive culture.

As a new school year approaches, I encourage you to reflect and ask yourself these questions. What “elephants” am I tiptoeing around? Why do I choose to ignore? Am I willing to condone this issue, problem, or behavior?

Problems can be dealt with, but we must courageously tackle them with clarity and honesty. Thank you Sue for causing me to think deeply about my practice and for driving me to change the way I lead.

If there is a quote or phrase that has made an impact on you, please share and contribute to the conversation here.

Be courageous,



  1. Drew Frank said:

    Love this piece as it makes me think of the work we have done the past two years on the topic of nonsiscussables.

    From Barth’s Culture Builder:

    An important part of awareness is attending to “nondiscussables.” Nondiscussables are subjects sufficiently important that they are talked about frequently but are so laden with anxiety and fearfulness that these conversations take place only in the parking lot, the rest rooms, the playground, the car pool, or the dinner table at home. Fear abounds that open discussion of these incendiary issues—at a faculty meeting, for example—will cause a meltdown. The nondiscussable is the elephant in the living room. Everyone knows that this huge pachyderm is there, right between the sofa and the fireplace, but we go on mopping and dusting and vacuuming around it as if it did not exist.
    Each school has its own nondiscussables. For one it is “the leadership of the principal.” For another, it is “the way decisions are made here.” For many it is “race” or “the underperforming teacher.” Schools are full of these land mines from which trip wires emanate. We walk about carefully, trying not to detonate them. Yet by giving these nondiscussables this incredible power over us, by avoiding them at all cost, we issue the underperforming teacher a license to continue this year as he did last year, taking a heavy toll on countless students and other teachers. We deprive the principal of honest, timely feedback and thereby continue to suffer from poor leadership. We condemn ourselves to live with all the debilitating tensions that surround race.
    The health of a school is inversely proportional to the number of nondiscussables: the fewer nondiscussables, the healthier the school; the more nondiscussables, the more pathology in the school culture. To change the culture of the school, the instructional leader must enable its residents to name, acknowledge, and address the nondiscussables—especially those that impede learning. No mean task, for as one principal put it, “These nondiscussables are the third rail of school leadership.”

    June 1, 2014
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      Thank you for commenting and adding to this important topic. Thanks for sharing Roland Barth’s work. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at Harvard and he is outstanding. I too believe that great school communities inspire great conversations. However, as you stated, the most important thing about communication is to hear what isn’t being said. Then, find the courage to address it rather than ignore. Thanks again for sharing your expertise.

      June 1, 2014
  2. Susan said:

    “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept” – this quotation from an Australian military commander’s address a few years ago has become a mantra for me. He was addressing unacceptable behaviour within the ranks. It’s a powerful leadership speech. http://youtu.be/QaqpoeVgr8U

    June 1, 2014
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      Thank you for sharing Susan. I enjoyed the video. The commander made it clear that it is important to clearly articulate the standard, model the standard, and accept nothing but the standard. I really like the quote you shared, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” It expresses the importance of paying close attention and knowing what is happening around you.

      June 1, 2014
  3. astrid_de_herrera@hotmail.com said:

    I do agree on this. As a principal we have the responsibility of being fair, support our teachers, teach them and spot those who do not have the passion to teach and stand for the school.

    June 10, 2014

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