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May 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 8

EL Extra

Welcome to EL Extra. We have designed questions to help you and your colleagues foster meaningful discussions around this issue of Educational Leadership.
These questions will not cover all aspects of the topics contained in this issue, but we hope that they will help you generate conversations about key ideas. Feel free to adapt the questions to be more relevant to your school or school district. Although you can consider many of the questions on your own, we encourage you to use them in pairs, small groups, or even large study groups.

How Healthy Is My School's Culture?

  • Do we encourage both new and experienced teachers to express their views in faculty meetings?
  • Do experienced teachers offer active and willing support to new teachers?
  • Do high-achieving students have to struggle against peer attitudes that working hard in school isn't “cool”?
  • Do parents actively participate in school volunteer opportunities, including serving on advisory task forces?
Assess how your school rates on Saphier and King's norms of healthy culture, which Barth mentions: collegiality, experimentation, high expectations, trust and confidence, tangible support, reaching out to the knowledge bases, appreciation and recognition, caring celebration and humor, involvement in decision making, protection of what's important, traditions, and honest and open communication. Do you feel that your school falls short in any of these areas? If so, discuss what steps you can take to improve the culture of your school.

How Important Are Relationships?

In “The Change Leader” (p. 16), Michael Fullan asserts thatThe single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost.
Do you agree? Think about success-ful change efforts in which you have been involved. Were improved relationships among staff members and students an important part of the change? Have you seen a reform effort succeed in spite of static or crumbling relationships?
Daniel A. Heller (“The Power of Gentleness,” p. 76) and Kay Pippin Uchiyama and Shelby Anne Wolf (“The Best Way to Lead Them,” p. 80) also discuss the importance of relationships in instructional leadership—expressed by Heller as “kindness and compassion” and by Uchiyama and Wolf as “heart” and “intentionality.” Do you believe that these qualities are more important in education than in other fields? In your personal experience, how have these qualities contributed to strong leadership?

Why Tolerate Funding Inequity in Public Schools?

In their research review (p. 48), Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner document large differences in school district funding between wealthy and impoverished communities in the United States. They summarize research evidence that funding differences affect student achievement, and they assert that the United States is alone among developed nations in maintaining such funding inequities.
  • Many people are unaware of the disparities in funding.
  • U.S. schools have a long tradition of local funding.
  • Many people believe that poverty is caused by lack of effort or a toxic culture among the poor, and therefore pouring resources into attempts to lift students out of poverty through education is a wasted effort.
  • Some people believe reports based on studies asserting that the level of funding for schools does not affect student achievement.
Discuss the importance of each of these factors. Can you think of other barriers to equalizing education funding?
Discuss funding inequities in light of John Dewey's maxim, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must be what the community wants for all its children.”
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