Our Neighbors' Children Are Our Children Too
"Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or only for a new balance of power? If it be only a struggle for a new balance of power, who will guarantee, who can guarantee the stable equilibrium of the new arrangement? Only a tranquil Europe can be a stable Europe. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace." Address of President Woodrow Wilson to the U.S. Senate 22 January 1917
President Wilson had a vision and had determined a path toward it, a war to end war. It didn't happen. We do not aspire to a tranquil and stable educational system. We are, in fact, proponents of deep change in our system. Yet, Wilson's thinking does offer a concept currently relevant in education. Establishing a community of power within school communities and with those who have interests in the future of children may lay a foundation for an "organized and common peace". But, this is not a peace without movement. Instead it is a peace that allows for creativity and makes room for innovation. It is not stasis. It is not a time for preservationists to reign. Change has been foisted upon our system form the outside and we battle among ourselves on the inside. And, in turn, that has caused unrest, mistrust, and a lowering of morale except, we contend, where a community of power has seized the turbulence and opted for forward motion. Even so, these are pockets. We cannot drive educational change until those who lead and teach on the ground, in every local school and district, care as much about the neighbor's child as their own. Is that remotely possible?
Our school family may be doing just fine. Students had a good year. Teachers adjusted to new curriculum, assessments and evaluations without frenzy. Budgets passed so a bit more money is flowing. Bond issues will improve the facilities and technology for next year and lots of professional development is happening this summer. But, what about our neighbors and our neighbor's child? There remain families and children living in poverty. Children are homeless. There serious mental health issues and physical issues among children severely impacting educational success. There immigrant populations surge and lay heavy needs on all the social, medical and educational systems. In our district and in our neighbor's district, the children come to school but the children are different. For an educational community of power, they are all our children.
This has become a time of chaos for schools and leading through chaos requires the "leader continues to evolve, to adapt and adjust to external change" for without doing so, "the organization will sooner or later stall" (Bennis. p. 137). Perhaps it is in that stalled place where we get stuck and invest in the business of task accomplishment. It is most certainly when we are in that stuck place that we give those outside of our schools the opportunity to view us as not moving ahead as we should. And, then, they are right.
Engaging in a movement forward can be energizing as momentum builds, when done together. Bridges need to be built with pillars of wisdom, generosity and resourcefulness and skill. Business leaders, educational leaders and teachers, politicians, physicians, and parents all contribute voices to a community with power. But, do we know how to build a community of power? As leaders, we have two directions to take. One is within our own school communities. Surely there are a range of thoughts, opinions, philosophies and leanings between and among the school leaders and teachers within a district. Some may differ greatly from building to building within the same district. For some, it is hard enough to struggle with those differences and secure an organized peace. A unity of purpose and a balance between self interest and other interest are required. In those moments, everyone feels heard and understands the district direction and/or trusts the leaders. That environment becomes a "community of power" and an "organized common peace" can prevail.
There are also those among us who can reach out beyond the local communities they lead and build bridges with greater spans to those outside of our immediate communities. It is this larger "community of power" and an "organized peace" that will really change education for children, all of them. As powerful businesses, politicians, and other organizations invest their attention and resources in schools, we need those who allow the neighbor's children to gain capacity and compete on more level ground. There are those among us who are ready and able to reach out to them.
It is ultimately the responsibility of those who have chosen to step up and lead schools to be those bridge builders, who understand how to balance the power, listen to all voices, and be the rudder to the ship that is our changing educational environment. After all, the homeless third grader, the bewildered immigrant child, and the troubled adolescent, even if they are our neighbor's children, are all our children. To really address the children who are not achieving in our schools, we need to form a community of power about those children and let it speak.
Bennis, Warren G. (2009). On Becoming a Leader. New York: Basic Books