"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"How Can Teachers Best Relate to DepEd -- and Vice Versa?"

John Dewey's The Child and the Curriculum brings our attention to the importance of a child's background in learning. In this line of thinking, it is useful to take into account a child's experience and use this experience to make a stronger connection to what is being taught. However, Dewey also warned against overemphasizing learner-centeredness inside the classroom. This extreme likewise harms learning in schools since it focuses so much on the child that it neglects both content and the role of the teacher. Dewey aspired for a balance between the two, and his ideas promoted experiential education. Dewey was also known to have fought hard for academic freedom. He vigorously defended the rights of teachers. 

I am recalling John Dewey and his works after reading a letter recently written by Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. The title of the letter is "Fewer John Waynes, More John Deweys", and it is one of the responses to the question, "How can teachers best relate to Superintendents -- and vice versa?" It is an important question and in the Philippines, this should probably be rephrased into "How can teachers best relate to DepEd -- and vice vers?"

My experiences in Paete, Laguna provided me with a glimpse of these relationshipa. Of course, I am not knowledgeable of how the structure really works and who exactly does what. I am probably aware of only a fraction of what really goes on. Nonetheless, in Paete, I had the opportunity to work with the school administrators:
The principals and district supervisor in Paete, Laguna
Some functions of the public school system are devolved upon the local government so I likewise spent some time with local government officials:
The members of the Sangguniang Bayan (town council) of Paete, Laguna
Of course, I spent time with the teachers:
Teachers at the Ibaba Elementary School in Paete, Laguna
I had the opportunity to attend and observe several local school board meetings. It is unfortunate that in most of these meetings, the agenda was mostly on infrastructure and funding. There were no discussions on pedagogy, curriculum or teaching in the meetings that I attended. I describe it as unfortunate because I really have nothing to contribute with regard to building classrooms or finding funds. Up till now, I still do not understand why school buildings are named after the governor. The buildings inside the campus of the National Institutes of Health in the United States do not have names. Buildings are simple labeled with numbers. For example, there is building number 5. The reason behind this, as I was told, was to respect the fact that these buildings were built using public funds or taxes. Governors in the Philippines must really be generous that they could donate so much of their own money for the construction of so many school buildings. 

There were several few occasions where I did have the opportunity to talk with the mayor, the principal, some teachers, and members of the town council in more informal settings. At that point, I could actually relate to the question, "How can teachers best relate to authorities -- and vice versa?" I will copy Randi Weingarten's response (After all, he has so much greater experience than I do):
...The best relationships I've had were those built on mutual respect--sharing a common goal but understanding each other's roles and responsibilities in achieving it. Essentially, it's about doing everything in our power to make our public schools places where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach, and students want to learn.

When these relationships are constructive, both parties understand they need each other. We understand that superintendents have the ultimate responsibility to move an entire system to enable student success, and superintendents understand that teachers need the proper tools, conditions and support to help students learn and grow...
 
...Today, conflict is celebrated. Everyone wants to be the lone crusader who challenges the teachers, gets the headlines and imposes the latest education fad on teachers without valuing their expertise. 
How can you build an education system that helps all kids succeed without valuing the input and experience of the educators who spend every day nurturing and enriching the minds of our children? How can you instill trust and confidence in a public education system if you don't respect the people you entrust to teach our kids?

Today, you almost have to whisper if you want to build a system based on common purpose and mutual trust and respect out of fear that you will be attacked for lacking courage. Courage is now seen as destabilizing the same people you need to get the work done. This is foolish--and it hurts kids.
 
Courage should be about working together--as tough as it is sometimes--to work with parents and teachers as partners, to invest in public schools, to ensure teachers have the tools and conditions they need to help their students, and to recognize that ideas and solutions can come from the classroom just as often as they can come from the central office. 
And here's the secret: Those who are doing the whispering, those who are actually focused on teacher-superintendent collaboration, those who are walking in each other's shoes are the ones with the real track record of improving their school systems and doing what is best for kids. 
In short--what the education world needs today are fewer John Waynes and more John Deweys.



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