Through a random strand of conversation yesterday, my wife and I started to discuss gossip magazines. She explained to me that there were certain ‘smuttiness’ levels to each magazine. Finding the conversation interesting I started asking for the classifications of several magazine titles that I could remember. I inquired as to where “Us” magazine fell in those rankings. She responded by saying, “First of all, it should be called “Them” not “Us”—and then told me it was at the medium level for smut.
I found the comment funny, but also insightful and it led me to think about how the 'us' versus 'them' comment applied to leadership and education.
In almost any industry or field of work there are those people that rise to the top of the food chain and thus become easily identifiable to the general public. Sports is easy (Tom Brady, Tiger Woods), business as well (Bill Gates, Donald Trump), even general entertainment (from Lady Gaga to Robert DeNiro). There is no doubt that these people had good fortune along the way, but they also have clearly observable talents, are experts at what they do, have actively contributed to their industry, and have become one of the faces of their industry. If that is the definition of ‘them’ it becomes easy to identify ‘them’ in almost every other profession – but what about education?
In thinking about this yesterday I engaged in a handful of conversations explaining the cause of the education ‘them’ versus ‘us’ conversation and asked people (mostly educators) who they associated with ‘them’ in education. The most common answer was Arne Duncan – and the list often stopped there. A few people could identify popular authors, professional development presenters or corporations, or researchers, but the answers came slow and inconsistently. This led me to the realization that in education the leader of our leaders is predominantly legislation. The name most associated as an educational power-broker was not a first class educator sharing insights in how to help change kids lives – it was a political appointment (with zero classroom or building-level experience). Researchers, practitioners, and contributors to the field such as Dufour, Marzanno, Danielson, and Reeves were dramatically overshadowed in my informal poll by a policy-maker. The concepts and ideas shared by the above three are also oft overshadowed and occasionally undercut by policy, legislation, and other hoop-jumping activities.
Succinctly put, governmental intervention and accountability measures in education have grown exponentially in the past three decades. What has not grown has been student achievement. It is time for more of us (successful practitioners) to become them (educational power-brokers) and truly transform, not reform, American education. Are you willing to lead the charge?