Should Educators Judge Initiatives?

At several times during my career I have found myself in a rather uncomfortable situation: I was philosophically opposed to initiatives being undertaken by the school leaders. Specific situations I remember include:

  • The decision to replace good middle school practice with a junior high school model;
  • The decision to replace coding, video games design, and other computer explorations with “time to practice for standardized tests on the test preparation site.”

In those situations, I took a stand and told the school leaders I disagreed with the initiatives, and defended my stance. In the case of the middle school to the junior high school, the differences between me and the administration left to me finding another job. I was convinced it was the right move when the principal who hired me out of the emerging junior high school reported he heard, “Gary has been uncooperative in our school improvement efforts” when he checked my references. I expect that came through when I interviewed, and I was hired because of my commitment to middle school methods.

I was also convinced by students in tears (real tears!) when they came to the computer room to use the test preparation site that I needed to take a stand, and I refused to support the site any longer and I worked with teachers to create more engaging activities for their students to do when they visited the computer rooms.

More recently, I observed a school administrator who was being asked about some changes to a grading system. His response was, “I can do what you want, just tell me what it is. Proficiencies? I can speak that language. Traditional grades? I can do that too.”

I understand he was articulating his belief that he is a flexible leader and that he is confident he can adapt to any situation. At a deeper level, I find this leader’s response very troubling. He was being asked to defend a decision (that was mode by others). His ambiguous response demonstrates what is to me a clear lack of leadership in that he would not identify which approach (and as instantiated these are very different approaches to education) he preferred.

Further troubling is the fact that this school leader in nearing the completion of his doctoral studies. When one studies at the highest level, one becomes qualified to analyze and judge ideas within the field. By not taking the opportunity to take a stand on this issue, that school leader refused his responsibility as a highly-educated leader to determine what is sound practice and what is not. It is unfortunate that school leaders have taken the advice of politicians, philanthropists, and business people rather than trusting their knowledge of students and learners and teaching.