Currently, I seem to operate in the spheres of education and of politics, and true to my way of life need to ensure commonness as I wander between the two. As I watch presidential debates, review candidate position statements and examine others’ analysis I am struck with a sense of contradictions. As I visit schools, engage with students and review research I also encounter contradictions. This analysis leads to the balance I need in my life, but also concerns me that contradictions are prevalent in both politics and education.
Contradictions can be defined as a combination of statements, ideas or actions by a person that are opposite to those previously made. These obvious inconsistencies can lead to confusion and/or conflict
In politics, we have a formal and informal system of fact checking that immediately follows debates and statements and in fact has become big business for some. Fact checking is immediately reported on social media and used by commentators, opponents, political parties and advocates. There is no doubt that our radar is on high alert whenever there is a political debate, press conference or other formal statements by candidates. In fact we are coming to expect multiple sources to check the facts and find contradictions that we can use to make our case for or against a candidate or political party.
In schools I find that students experience contradictions in the way they are treated, expectations of them, interactions with adults in the school, opportunities to be engaged and ways they are supported, redirected and honored. Unlike the political scenarios I mentioned above, there are not individuals/groups standing by, in most instances, to check the facts and identify contradictions students experience.
However, there are strategies that schools integrate that create a mutual understanding of agreements to ensure consistency in the way each student and each adult experiences school.
I had the privilege a few months ago to visit pre-schools, elementary and middle schools in Montana and in each of the schools there were sets of expectations that expressed how each individual should act and the types of relationships they should consistently experience. These expectations are:
- Agreed to by all stakeholders;
- Expressed in words/concepts everyone understands;
- Specific to the various areas of the school (hallways, classrooms, cafeteria, washroom and library);
- Posted throughout the school;
- Used in conversations and
- Part of the school accountability system.
As you can imagine contradictions experienced by anyone in the school would be recognized and addressed by others bringing congruence to the attitudes and behaviors throughout the school. This reduces conflict, discrepancies and differences experienced by the school stakeholders.
Another strategy schools employ to ensure equitable and consistent experiences and reducing contradictions is a school-wide focus on school climate. School climate is the quality and character of a school and organized according to four elements:
- Positive trusting relationships,
- Engaging teaching and learning and
- Physical environment.
A high-quality school climate becomes part of the accountability system, is consistently measured and focuses on continuous improvement. Effective school climate measurement ensures each student and adult in the school shares their experiences (usually via web-based surveys) that are collated and analyzed to identify areas to celebrate and other areas to improve. Such analyses address contradictions and lead to consistency and congruence of each person’s school experience.
My experience visiting schools with a commitment to integrating, measuring and sustaining a high-quality school climate consistently demonstrates a general understanding of the school’s values, expectations and a sense that each student and adult is connected and feels they belong to the school.
These two strategies demonstrate how schools can reduce contradictions and create engaging processes bringing harmony to how each student and adult experiences school. They also require that everyone agree to what is expected of them and ways to address contradictions to ensure accord across and throughout the entire school system.
We can leave the fact checking to those monitoring candidates and political parties but let’s not leave ensuring each student and adult in our schools have consistent high-quality experiences to others rather let’s engage all education stakeholders in reducing contradictions and increasing consistency in our schools.