Sunday, January 19, 2014

Circling the Wagons

The #PDposse welcomes guest blogger, Jon Harper.  Jon is the Vice-Principal at Choptank Elementary School in Maryland.  In this post, he delves into issues that have a profound impact on organizational health; communication, keeping kids safe, and creating a culture of learning are at the heart of what we do.  
You can follow Jon on Twitter; @JonHarper70bd

Circling the Wagons: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Circling the wagons began as a phrase used to describe what pioneers would do on the frontier prairie when they felt as if they were going to be attacked. It was a strategy used to protect themselves from outside forces such as Native Americans and outlaw gangs.

Over the years the phrase has begun to take on another meaning as well. Nowadays, the phrase circling the wagons can refer to when a group of people stop communicating with others not in their group in order to avoid their ideas and beliefs.

The Good
There are often times when students and staffs feel pressure from outside sources, and during those times it is important to come together for the sake of unity and protection. Students and educators nowadays are under more pressure than ever and it is our job to do all that we can to not only keep them safe, but to also help them feel safe.

This can be accomplished by “circling the wagons” as a community, a school, a classroom or even a small group of friends.  As leaders of districts, schools and children we must recognize when this is needed. It can take the form of circle time, a staff meeting or simply a chat with a small group.
Either way, when we realize that our students and staff members do not feel safe, it is our job to “circle the wagons”.  As Simon Sinek so eloquently reminds us in Leaders Eat Last, “The power of the Spartan army did not come from the sharpness of their spears, however; it came from the strength of their shields.”

The Bad
As previously mentioned, nowadays “circling the wagons” can refer to when groups block out any ideas that differ from their own. This is not good. In fact, it is quite bad! Too often we (teachers, schools, districts) operate in our own little silos. When ideas are not transferred back and forth, change is virtually impossible.

Take a moment to watch the powerpoint “Shift Happens” to see just how fast our world is changing.  In today’s world the opportunities to communicate, learn and grow from one another have increased exponentially. “Circling the wagons” may help us feel safer, but it will not help us to grow and learn from one another.

One hour spent outside your “comfort circle” is all you need to start to grow.  Read Peter DeWitt’s post, “Twitter Chats: An Hour Well Worth Your Time” to find out one way how. Then again, if you are reading this I am sure you already venture outside your “comfort circle”.  But, maybe you have a staff member that could benefit from reading Peter’s article.

The Ugly
Probably the worst result of wagon circling is that prejudices begin to form and mud begins to be slung. When groups do not communicate with each other, they begin to form their own, often uninformed opinions of each other.

“If people are informed they will do the right thing. It’s when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudices.” 
~Charlayne Hunter-Gault

We cannot open a newspaper, or click on an online journal, without reading about one group attacking another. Whether it is over the Common Core Curriculum, Parent Involvement or Teacher Evaluations, mud is slung from many sides. And, yet all sides claim to have the childrens’ best interests in mind.

When we “circle the wagons”, and prevent communication from coming and going out, it is our students that suffer the most. As adults, we are often able to, for better or for worse, live with our prejudices and opinions. But, when we limit what our students have access to, simply because an idea comes from an outside source, they suffer. And that just can’t happen. Not in today’s world! Not when communicating and sharing with one another can take place with just the click of the button.

DeWitt, Peter. “Twitter Chats: An Hour Well Worth Your Time”. Finding Common Ground. Education Week. Retrieved on January 19, 2014.

Fisch, Kark. Shift Happens.

Hunter-Gault, Charlayne. Prejudice. Retrieved on January 19, 2014.

Sinek, Simon. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York,NY: Penguin Group.

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