Betsy DeVos Got It All Wrong

While speaking to the American Legislative Exchange Council this past week she said, “Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change.” In this one statement, DeVos promotes three key understandings that demonstrate an incredibly flawed sense of school leadership; one, that she is in the business of fighting her “opponents”; two, that her “opponents” are just fine with the status quo; and three, that real change only comes from outside the organization. This is not the stance of a great leader.

Great school leaders work with teachers and other members of their organizations. They do not set up adversarial relationships or cultivate a ‘them vs. us’ mentality. Rather than shutting people out, they bring more voices to the table. And while it’s true that leaders sometimes make unpopular decisions, they do so after listening thoughtfully to the ideas of others. There will be many times when compromise is possible, but only when the door is open for authentic dialogue, not shut against a foe that must be overcome.

Great school leaders understand the complexities of teaching and learning. They do not berate teachers and assume they are satisfied when their students under perform. They know that every teacher wants every student to be at the top of the class. Leaders join forces with teachers to analyze the many possible reasons for under performance, develop strategies to meet student needs, and participate in professional learning to develop their understanding of content knowledge and best practices. They do not defend the status quo. They raise the bar.

Great school leaders believe in the power of shared leadership to effect change. They hire the most qualified people, read the best research, and compile data from several, valid sources. They do not believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instead, they collaborate with other leaders to design educational models within public schools such as magnet schools, teacher-led schools, lab schools, and schools of innovation, for example; models that increase student achievement and build stronger communities. They trust one another and hold each other accountable as they seek to change what isn’t working and endeavor to strengthen what is.

Making schools better is not about fighting opponents and blaming others. It’s about realizing that we’re all in this together, that we all bring valuable skills to the table, and that we all have an important role to play in the success of our children’s education.

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