Bridges or Walls?

Are you Building Bridges or Walls?

We live in a world of walls.  Walls that divide things into small manageable pieces, or so we think. Our goal in separating things is to understand them better, but over time, this method of understanding becomes restrictive and limiting.  What started out as a way to better define things or manage them becomes a set-in-stone method.  In educational circles, this looks like programs that are ineffective being continued on after their usefulness has expired.  Or perhaps a lack of innovation because “we’ve never done it that way before.” The walls go up until we are a fragmented system in which no one area communicates meaningfully with the others.  I believe this happens across all forms of education, not just in public schools.  Colleges, churches, private schools, extracurricular classes, corporate training rooms…all of these places are full of walls that divide their members.  So how do we fix that?  Is there a solution? The answer is yes, there is.  Build bridges.

In real life there is a significant difference between building walls and building bridges.  To build a wall requires some bricks, some mortar, and a few people. In fact, the more people you have the more difficult it becomes.  Usually when you see a wall going up you see two or three knowledgeable people working together in their varying jobs to complete the task in front of them. They do not worry about the whole job…only their part in it.  When you build a bridge it is a much more complex task with many more moving pieces.  The whole project has to be taken into consideration by all the members of the team.  If one element is not done properly the entire task could fail and the result would be disastrous. A collapsed bridge is an issue not only for those on the bridge, but also those who come after, who must reroute and go around and enormous pile of rubble until it can be rebuilt.  The engineers who designed the bridge must talk to the foremen, who must communicate to the construction team, on both ends of the bridge.  That is a significant amount of people, all with differing roles. Communication is the key to success.

There was a time in public education where we were bridge builders.  We each had a part of the overall design.  We collaborated.  We each worked our parts with the end goal in mind.  We respected all those involved with the project of building successful children.  There was a connection that could be travelled over together to move to the next place in development.  It was a highway, and while it was not perfect, it was at least continually evaluating and identifying areas for improvement.  Then the wall builders arrived. They tore down the bridges in favor of building a structure. Piles of rubble brought progress to a standstill.  They handed out bricks and told us where to lay them.  We asked them questions, and they told us not to. We wanted to know how this would foster success and they said it was no longer our concern.  We wanted to know the final plan, but were not given access to it.  We were told the walls would help by making things more manageable, not as many moving pieces.  We did what we were told, but soon we couldn’t even see each other.  We each had our own “room” and the walls grew so tall that we were isolated.  There was no communication or collaboration on the completion of the big picture, only short memos about the individual rooms and how they were not to code.  We worked tirelessly to meet code, but no matter what we did it wasn’t enough. We got disillusioned.  We got tired.  The energy that was there when we were building bridges was gone. We had no idea what we were building anymore, because successful children no longer seemed to be the goal.  We wandered aimlessly, and are wandering still, wondering what is it we are doing.

This change from bridges to walls was a fundamental shift. It is not specific to one school, system, or state.  It is a national swing of the ever-present pendulum. It is not a blue or red move, it is a move of a culture.  There are varied and passionate opinions as to why this shift is occurring. Those reasons will be argued until the next swing back.  

I decided to break down the walls…to continue to push for building successful children.  I wanted to go back to building bridges.  I could not do so in a place-of-wall-building, and so I left.  I believe building bridges between the home, the school, the community, and the students is the best way to solve educational issues.  I believe collaboration with a common goal is the key to success.  I do not believe bulldozing the walls will happen, but I do believe building bridges into the structure will still reach children who need to experience success. The ones in the closed in rooms need bridges.  The ones at home doing all they can to enhance their child’s education need bridges.  The ones trying their best to learn all their parents and teachers are teaching them need bridges.  My desire is to be a bridge builder.  Will you?

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