Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Breaking the Silence: Why It's the School Leader's Responsibility to Speak Out

"The silence of thoughtful people creates a vacuum filled by extremists." Margaret Wheatley, Find Our Way; Leadership for an Uncertain Time
In her book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, Margaret Wheatley asks the question:
"Why is silence moving like a fog across the planet? Why is it growing in us as individuals, even as we learn of more and more issues that concern us? Why do we fail to raise our voice on behalf of things that trouble us, and then regret what we didn't do?" 
Why do public educators and school leaders largely remain silent while politicians and government bureaucrats bash public schools and inundate them with harmful school policies? Why do teachers, principals, and district leaders automatically ask the question, "How can we implement this educational measure?" rather than asking the tough questions about implementation issues and possible harmful effects on the public education system, its students, and its employees? Is it fear? Has our public education system become so hierarchical, with emperors and kings sending down mandates, and the educator's job is to unquestioningly accept whatever those mandates are and carry them out? My question is not intended to encourage that we should break the law, or be insubordinate. Legally, we're often bound to doing some things while holding our noses, and hoping that no one is harmed by those laws or policies. Still, if we quietly move to implementation mode, without expressing our concerns and opinions, then those in power take that acquiescence as consent and total support.

In the current education climate, our silence on issues like standardized testing, accountability, education budgets, and poverty does create the vacuum into which the enemies to public education, sometimes allied with well-meaning education reformers have poured their ideas. They have captured the marketplace of "what's-best-for-kids" because educators and school leaders choose to be silent, and in this, when it comes to our current educational climate, we've only ourselves to blame.

It is time, time for us to speak up. It is time for us to let our politicians know how their budgets and laws affect lives and our education mission. It is time for us to let federal bureaucrats know how their programs and policies are undermining our efforts to bring sound education to our students. It is time, for us to break the silence. While our speaking up may not change minds, laws, or policies, at the end of the day, we will not regret that we allowed all these anti-public education reforms occur.

Of course, those in "power" might see our speaking out as "insubordination" and "not being a team player." But since when does being on a team mean you check your expertise and opinions at the door? Since when is contributing your own concerns and objections deemed insubordinate? We do have a responsibility to be respectful when expressing our concerns and objections. And those objections and concerns expressed may do nothing to change the course of events. Still, we've not been insubordinate, and we are being the ultimate team player. We are contributing our expertise and ideas and experience when we do not remain silent. We are in the practice being "thoughtful people" who are trying to keep in check those whose agendas may not be in the best interests of our students and public education, and to help our leaders make sound decisions.

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