Saturday, January 1, 2011

No Us vs.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.


  1. Perfectly stated. Nothing annoys me more than supposedly "funny" dark-side remarks. Teachers do not prefer to be generalized into one category, so it is troublesome to me when some people lump all administrators in the "if-only-our-admin-were-on-board-we-could-do-this-or-this" category.

    Let's hope 2011 is the year of improved educational partnerships and fewer remarks such as those you indicated above.

  2. YES! Totally agree- the us vs them has to go. There are only we- we need to care about our students, all of us. (and work collaboratively to make a difference)
    Thanks for sharing

  3. It is interesting that many of us, particularly with a British Coumbia context, are writing about similar hopes for the coming year. I absolutely agree with you - there is a better way. One of the things we are doing and can continue to do, is model this better way in the digital space - it is not about roles, we should be discussing ideas.

    I have never heard the Board Office refered to as the "Star Chamber," before I assume this is a compliment - perhaps it is not because we are all "stars" in the Board Office.

    Well said - let's all commit to modelling this behaviour this year!

  4. Hi Cale,

    I'm currently a university student and a former student of Chris Kennedy's Students Live Program. I just wanted to say what a great post you wrote. I really liked your execution of ideas and how you used the sports team analogy. It truly captures the essence of what you want to say, and I agree with you 100%.

    I just graduated from high school a mere 6 months ago, and it really allowed me to reflect on my years of formal education. Yes, there is always a sort of hierarchy for everyting, but we need to respect each other, regardless of where one is on the "ladder". In high school I had good relations with the principals and vice principals and worked along side them for student led projects. I was lucky to go to a school where the admin treated everyone with respect and really tried to break that hierarchy of "us" vs "them" (in this case, admin vs students). I also want to mention Steve Cardwell, the Superintendent of the Vancouver School Board. I've met him a few times and he is really genuine and wants to connect with studnets. He didn't make me feel like he was in a position of power above me, but treated me as an equal.

    We all have similar goals, and like you said, we must work together to achieve these goals.

    Thank you again for the post, and I believe we really need more teachers like you and Chris Kennedy in our districts. Both of you are very innovative and are the future of education in BC.


  5. Hallelujah! This is just exactly perfect. I have been banging this same drum for a while now, so I am delighted to see similar thoughts. It's not us. vs. them. It's simply we the people. Let's unite and help the kids better receive what we are seeking to deliver:

    Here's a video tutorial teaching kids how to better receive their education:

  6. It is unfortunate that people make assumptions about others based on the role others are in. I think this is why it is so crucial for colleagues to develop positive professional relationships with each other. When people believe their colleagues genuinely care about them, roles no longer become important. This allows for true professional dialogue where a diversity of perspectives are expressed and embraced.

    The digital conversations that we are all engaging in demonstrate that this is an environment where roles do not matter and each other's views are respected.

    As always Cale, thank you for such a great post!


  7. Thanks to each of you for your fine comments. Labelling is something that we are not supposed to do to our children in education, so why would we do it to eachother?

    Tanya, it is very refreshing to hear that you had positive relationships across your career as a student. It is my hope that students that I have at my school feel the same way about our administrative team. I know that we can always do better, but I hope our students and staff feel like they can come to us and work with us at any time.

    Thanks again for all of the thoughts!

  8. I still remember my very first staff meeting as a teacher and wondering why the administrators weren't around for part of the meeting. I was told that they weren't part of the teacher union and therefore weren't allowed into that part of the meeting. My naive answer was to ask why? Weren't we all here for the same reason?
    As I have moved into an administrative role 9 years later my attitude is the same. Parents, custodians, SEA's, Board Office staff, teachers and administrators should only be focused on engaging students and helping them learn.
    Well said Cale!
    Chris Sandor


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