There is an unhelpful distance that exists between conversations regarding the challenges facing secondary education, higher education, and graduate/professional education. While each represents its own silo, many of the topics are the same: financial sustainability, ascendant student mental health issues, socio-political polarization, curricular preservation versus innovation, and more. Yet, the dialogue that exists between different arenas of educational leadership is stilted and often takes place tangentially to the actual decision-making within each area.
We may share some vocabulary; we may struggle against similarly recalcitrant issues; and we may mine over and over again from the limited resources of our own echo chambers; yet, we don’t share, and perhaps more poignantly, we are not prepared to hear ideas, answers and approaches that come from beyond our own silo.
Several answers come quickly to mind:
- We look for answers to problems from the approaches of institutions most similar to us. There is something that makes sense about this, of course. We believe, “if an answer to a problem works for School X, and we are like School X, then it follows that the same answer will work for our school.” While there is a certain syllogistic logic to this, and it may in fact be a viable path to follow in a number of areas, it is also limited and short-sighted if it represents our only approach to engaging our challenging issues.
- We have limited bandwidth to keep track of what is happening within our own silo, thus finding a way to access and analyze beyond the confines of our area seems impossible. This is a very real issue for anyone deeply immersed in both the day-to-day running of a school, college or university and the development of its strategic direction. This is where outside voices—associations and consultants have a vital role to play.
- We have let our prejudices limit our ability to learn deeply from educators operating in areas other than our own, particularly as we become more apprehensive about the sustainability of our own educational model. Strangely as the pressure ratchets up on us to innovate, we tend to look more and more inward rather than seeking solutions and approaches beyond our most familiar boundary lines.
My premise, however, is this: in order to create sustainable models and to best serve our students, we must find ways to create dialogue between all areas of education—public, independent, and higher, and we must put it at the center of our efforts to create positive change.
While there are clearly differences nuanced to each arena, we must bring to the center what we share in common. We must seek synthesis and connective tissue so that we can move forward in ways that make sense comprehensively in a student’s education. Remember: an individual student has an experience as a student that goes from early childhood to graduation from high school, college, or graduate school. To that student, connection and continuity matter.
When we fail to seek the strength of a larger and more dynamic cohort to address the powerful issues education faces, we hinder our ability to find the best solutions, and we condemn ourselves to inventing and re-inventing wheels at the very moment we need to be moving forward. Given the powerful and threatening tides that face all of us in education, the clock is ticking for us to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.
- Where is the good conversation between the various silos of education? I have perhaps made a false assumption that this dialogue doesn’t exist in effective ways—what have I missed? (I have been impressed with the work of EAB, which has been able to bring understanding of higher education and health care to bear on their early work in the secondary educational space.)
- How might such conversations expand? Become smarter? Get more traction?
- How might various educational Associations become glue that ties the best ideas of education together and then communicates those ideas across the boundaries that separate us?
- What human resources and financial resources would be necessary to connect successfully?
- Who should be in the room to determine the initial steps necessary to grow this thread of conversation?
- How might better connections between areas make change occur more thoughtfully and comprehensively without slowing its processes down to a degree that the world will have moved on by the time we arrive where we wanted to go?