No “Us versus Them”, just “Us”

As it is 2011 and it is the time for New Year’s Resolutions.  While I may have a few other resolutions like eating less red meat and limiting my consumption of ice cream (I would say “eliminating”, but it’s ice cream…come on), I also have an educational resolution that I hope to follow through upon, and I hope that others will to.  I want to get rid of the “us versus them” on every level of education.

You know what I mean.  Teachers versus their Principals and Vice Principals.  The school versus the board office.  The parents versus the school.  The community versus the trustees. The students versus the teachers.  Elementary versus Secondary.  K-12 versus post-secondary.  All of these adversarial relationships MUST go.  None of them are productive, and even when they are said in jest, they still leave a bitter taste in peoples’ mouths, and evoke memories of stereotypical relationships that were likely very strained at some point in time.

Some of these references are thought to be ok, like when teachers refer to administration as “The Dark Side”.  Or when administration refers to the school board office as “The Star Chamber”. Or when people talk about things that are “top-down”.  Or when parents say that schools are not “real world” like the world that society acutally lives in.  Often, comments like these are is glossed over with “it’s just a joke”, or “we’re only kidding”.  Really?  Imagine if a Principal referred to teaching as “the dark side”, or if the district office referred to their administrators as “just middle management”.  Would this be considered funny?  Or the school said their parents were “out of touch” with what is necessary for students to be successful.  Comments like these would incite all sorts of criticism and hard feelings.  Oddly, society has always considered it to be somewhat acceptable to criticize “up the chain”, but decidedly gauche and unacceptable to criticize “down the chain”.  I would argue that any negative comments, joking or not, are demeaning and incredibly unproductive.

I am a Principal.  I was a high school Biology and PE teacher.  I was a Vice-Principal, and have been in three very different school districts.  I am a parent of two young girls. I think each of these experiences gives me a certain perspective, but not THE perspective.  I haven’t taught for 10 years, and I would argue that as a result, I have a slightly antiquated point of view relative to teachers and students in the classroom of today.  But I have never been a support worker, Director of Instruction, an Assistant Superintendent, Superintendent, or Trustee.  So as a result, I am very limited in my ability to identify solutions to the challgenges that each of these people face in their positions.

Students, teachers, parents, support workers, Vice Principals, Principals, Superintendents, Trustees, and the community are all vital stakeholders in education.  For students to be as successful as they possibly can, each of these parties needs to be treated with equal respect.  No one party is better or worse, no more or less valuable, and no more or less culpable.  Responsibility, successes and failures need to be shared equally, as a team. If there are challenges that arise, they can best be met if each of our stakeholders work together, as a team.

Teammates recognize that they must work together interdependently towards a common goal. .  Teammates don’t blame other teammates.  Teammates meet the public unified as one, even when behind closed doors they might disagree.   And the one thing that teammates NEVER do is call another teammate down (just ask John Wooden on TED talks – thanks to @Nunavut_Teacher).  Never.

If the stakeholders in education are truly going to be a team that functions together, then let’s stop perpetuating the adversarial relationships in education.  And let’s start by making a resolution.  No more negative or derisive comments towards one of our teammates.  There is no “Us versus Them”.  There’s just Us.

8 Comments

  1. Kyle Timms said:

    I can’t agree with you more. I feel that the adversarial concept is one that can be wiped away with a change to an “abundance mentality” as described by Covey. Knowledge grows as it is shared.

    One more pair of adversaries you missed is “reformers” vs. “tradional teachers”. I consider myself a teacher and administraotr who is involved in educational reform towards a “personalized educaiton” but every time I meet or watch a traditional teacher in action, I learn and hopefully they learn from me. If we approach reform from an appreciative inquiry point of view, we can reform the system and pull tradtional teachers with us along the way.

    January 2, 2011
  2. Shannon said:

    Great post, Cale. I think one of the things that creates the “us” and “them” is a lack of trust because a relationship hasn’t been properly nurtured. Being able to see things from flip perspectives also helps us get over the “us and them” and see the commonalities. I think it is our job to bring those commonalities to the surface as we work towards establishing trusting relationships with all stakeholders.

    I also really like Kyle’s comment regarding ‘traditional teachers’. One of the most rewarding relationships I have at school is with a teacher who is less than a year from retirement. He would be considered to be a very ‘traditional’ teacher and his relationship with the previous principal was dismal at best. He is our union steward as well, which is another ‘us and them’ dichotomy, according to many of my colleagues. I am amazed at how much I have learned from working with this teacher. I have grown incredibly and I have also seen his practice change as he becomes more comfortable with me. None of that would have happened if I believed in an “us and them” approach.

    Thanks for the discussion!

    Shannon

    January 2, 2011
  3. The more people and parties working together for the benefit of kids, the better. Great post Cale 🙂

    January 2, 2011
  4. I couldn’t agree more. Think of how much more we could accomplish if we started acting more like a team and were invested in each other and in kids – together.

    January 2, 2011
  5. Adi Respati said:

    Cool resolution. I will forward this to fellow teachers on my campus. Good luck with this! 🙂

    January 2, 2011
  6. What a great resolution! I would add to that observation the unnecessary and unproductive references to the “billionaire boys club” some in ed reform (or anti-ed reform) are so fond of!

    January 2, 2011
  7. Anita Strang said:

    This is an excellent reminder about power of words and how seemingly casual, flippant comments (even “in jest”) can carry so much power. Such a important thing for all of us to keep in mind.

    January 3, 2011
  8. erhsprincipal said:

    Thank you for this post. What a great way of uniting our front in difficult times. We need to have more dialogue along these lines to keep all of our team members spirits up and focused on what really is important. 

    January 4, 2011

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