Educator Tips

Finding common ground in a divided society

Leading in times of radical change

By Katrina Nash Published on

Led by Maria G. Ott, the Irving R. Melbo Chair, the 2nd Annual Irving R. and Virginia A. Melbo Chair Lecture revolved around the theme of “Leading in Times of Radical Change: Finding Common Ground.” Panelists Lesley Bruinton, Vivian Ekchian EdD ’19, Stephen Nichols, Dean Pedro A. Noguera, and host Eric Olsen, shared insights on how education leaders are working to restore civil discourse and model respect in response to a divided society.

Dean Noguera began by addressing the prevalent issue of political polarization that has infiltrated schools across the country. This polarization is driving talented educators and leaders away from the profession, which is a cause for concern. It is particularly troubling because the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken a toll on learning, exacerbating gaps and disparities. These challenges are further compounded when education leaders are distracted by political controversies and attacks.

Dean Noguera emphasized “During periods of turbulence, it’s crucial to stay guided by your north star. Education is the key to our nation’s future, and without capable leaders, our schools will struggle to meet the challenges of this moment.”

Trust within the classroom is built on mutual respect, which is closely intertwined with creating a culture of safety and well-being. In today’s divided communities, it’s imperative to refocus on the needs of children and teachers, emphasizing the importance of fostering a loving and caring environment within the classroom. Ekchian emphasized the significance of working with employees and parents who serve as positive role models. She highlighted, “We need to equip students with the skills and competencies necessary to engage in meaningful conversations.”

Dean Noguera urged contemplation on how to create space for dialogue, “If students only get one perspective while learning, what happens when they go out into the real world and encounter people who disagree?” Leading with core values fosters peaceful dialogue and ensures that decisions are made with the best interest of students and the community in mind. Lesley underscored that “respect needs to be woven throughout the school district’s mission statement, strategic plan and values. The leader needs to harken the team back to those statements and remind everyone what the belief is.”

Maria concluded the evening by quoting Irving R. Melbo: “Our goal is to develop standards to which others will aspire in the field of education; the future is a world limited only by ourselves.”

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