The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

My Letter to the Governor

Yesterday, at the end of my post about schools as a “non zero” effort, I proposed that professional educators get together to present our case for collaboration, not competition. Below is a letter I sent yesterday afternoon to Rick Snyder, the Republican Governor of Michigan. I included my local representatives, as well as the State Superintendent of Education. It’s my sincere hope that my letter, once read, may inspire others to do the same.

August 9, 2011

Dear Governor Snyder,

I realize that you probably receive a number of letters each day, many from educators expressing their views on some of the recent proposals and legislation you have proposed or signed into law. I write to you today not about one specific measure, but rather, to speak about the broad philosophy that seems to drive your proposals.

Before I share my views, I’ll point out that I’m in my 9th year as a professional educator. I’m very proud of the work that I do, I started as a teacher, then worked as an Assistant Principal, before being appointed Principal of Oakview Middle School last spring. I hold a Masters, as well as an Education Specialist Degree in Education Leadership from Oakland University, and devote a lot of my personal time to doing my best to keep on top of education research. While I do not claim to be “the best” or “the leading expert” I do think that my experience, as well as my course of study puts me in a position to speak with some authority about our profession.

Governor, as I think about your proposals, I see a lot of ideas that revolve around competition. Realizing that you have a business background, I know that you fully understand the notion that when businesses compete, consumers win. Lower prices, better service, and new innovative products all develop because of private sector competition. As I think about your proposals to reform public education, it seems to me that you see students as our “consumers” and your business philosophy pushes you to think that if we as schools and districts compete, that Michigan’s children will win.

As a professional educator, and someone who is in a formal role of leadership, I write to you today to suggest you take a different approach. There is overwhelming research, completed by Richard DuFour, Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, among many others about collaboration between teachers. Simply put, when educators work together, share ideas, analyze data, and develop strategies to engage learners, student achievement goes up. I fear that some of your proposals will push schools and districts away from collaboration and more towards competition. The unintended consequence of this move would be that our growth would be stifled. As educators, our best work is done when we can try innovation, measure, and share with one another the results of our work. To improve schools, our state needs to create an environment where buildings and districts are sharing what is working and exchanging ideas. Our “business model” thrives on collaboration, not competition.

As you read this, I fear that you think of my letter as another laundry list of what is wrong, with no real suggestions on how to solve the problems I have laid out. I’d like to start by suggesting that you develop measures, that could be available on a dashboard that ISDs could keep about how they bring districts together. I’d also suggest that you make collaboration between teachers, NOT sharing services, a “best practice measure” for schools. Results matter, collaboration in our work will bring about better outcomes for the students of Michigan.

John Bernia
Oakview Middle School


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