Group looks to reform education
The New DEEL wants to highlight ethics and democracy in educational leadership
Steven Jay Gross was talking about FDR. Kathy Sernak and Judith Aiken were discussing John Dewey. And Joan Poliner Shapiro was speaking about her Aunt Gertrude.
Welcome to the initial strategy meeting of a group of educational leadership scholars who gathered on the second floor of Ritter Hall for two days last month to, in effect, launch a national movement focusing on Democratic, Ethical, Educational Leadership.
They’re calling their movement the New DEEL.
And just as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal worked to revive the economy and the nation in the 1930s, the group is looking to influence the education of principals, superintendents and teachers in the next generation by increasing the focus on democracy and ethics in leadership.
“Our educational leaders need to focus on being democratic actors, not merely cogs in wheels,” said Gross, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies (ELPS) in the College of Education. “They need to view schools as democratic forums.
“That doesn’t mean anything goes. But the public school has to be one of the forms of democracy in our society, a place where children families can work to help improve schools because they are citizens in a community.”
That’s not happening in the current corporate culture rampant in many public school systems, Gross said. And, he said, that’s why it’s up to education experts to call — and work — for change.
Collectively, New DEEL members will work to make a difference in their field through the publication of research papers, presentations at conferences and educational forums, and through their teaching, scholarship and activism, Gross said.
“What we’re trying to do is change the direction of the whole field for emerging principals and superintendents,” said Gross, who assembled the group. Its participants include Shapiro, chair of Temple’s ELPS department; ELPS professor and College of Education Associate Dean James Earl Davis; Sernak of Rowan University; Aiken of the University of Vermont; and Bill Boyd and Paul Begley of Penn State University, as well as some of their doctoral students.
Educational leaders from Bowling Green State, Fordham, Miami (Ohio) and Oklahoma State universities and the University of Oklahoma, as well as the University Council for Educational Administration, also are part of the group, but could not attend the initial planning session.
“All too often, school improvement has meant the over-use of corporate culture, mores and metaphors which are ill-suited for education,” Gross said. “And in the current political atmosphere, there’s a de-professionalizing, dehumanizing movement happening in education.
Where educators don’t take their role seriously, others want to dive in.
“If we don’t make our voices heard, we’re going to have a generation of educational trainers, not educators,” he continued. “Young people coming out will think that’s the way educators should be. That would be horrific.”
As Sernak and Aiken noted, the group’s ideals hark back to the philosophies of Dewey and the work of the John Dewey Society, which was formed in the 1930s to enact social change through the field of education.
“The John Dewey Society, formed in the 1930s, is similar to this,” said Aiken, who noted that the group’s work was banned in some regions. “That, too, was a group of practitioners looking at schools in society.”
“We’ll know we’ve succeeded when we get banned somewhere,” Boyd said with a laugh.
But the group’s mission, which members began fleshing out at their first session, is to reach every teacher, every student and every family in public education through their work, Shapiro noted.
“We’re talking about making things better for the next generation. Aren’t they our bottom line?” Shapiro said. She went on to discuss the plight of her own Aunt Gertrude, who taught elementary school decades ago in Connecticut, but was denied any professional development opportunities beyond eighth grade because of her school administration’s desire to keep teachers “in their place.”
“We have to let teachers fly,” she continued. “Right now, our government leaders see themselves as educators. Our professionalism as educational leaders needs to be valued.”
In addition to writing their own books independently focusing on leadership, turbulence, ethics and gender issues, Gross and Shapiro have collaborated to present ethics and leadership seminars to top-level Temple administrators and state legislators. Currently, they’re co-writing a book tentatively titled Ethical Educational Leadership in Turbulent Times and assisting the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission in developing an online course on the subject for educators statewide.
Though their efforts to enact change were substantial, Gross and Shapiro thought they could do more if they banded together with like-minded scholars. At the Ethics and Values in Education Conference in Barbados in September, they discussed their thoughts with other educational leaders. It was Shapiro who coined the group’s name, working off Gross’ unabashed affinity for FDR.
The New DEEL will meet again in April at the American Educational Research Association conference. Also in April, Gross and Shapiro will present a ticketed session on their work, as well as the New DEEL, at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Orlando, Fla.
In November, Gross said, the group will have a significant role at the annual University Council for Educational Administration conference in Nashville, Tenn., which will focus on democracy in educational leadership.
“These folks in the New DEEL are heavy hitters in the field,” Gross said. “Our participation in conferences will give us opportunities to flesh out ideas and get feedback from colleagues. As a group, we’re coming together as allies. There’s a real spirit of cooperation among us.”
Gross is quick to note that other educational leaders have sought to achieve goals similar to the New DEEL. But therein lies a challenge, he said.
“We’re not the first people to think of this. We need to be the first people to make it work,” Gross said, adding that many schools today are run in a corporate model. “There is a different choice we can convince others to take.”
The mission of the group has a real home at Temple, said Gross, himself an alumnus.
“At Temple, our students get a thorough grounding in ethics and democracy in leadership,” Gross said, noting the University’s mission. “This movement fits Temple to a T. It should start at a place like ours.”
- By Barbara Baals