Review: UNLEASHING THE POSITIVE POWER OF DIFFERENCES: POLARITY THINKING IN OUR SCHOOLS by Jane A. G. Kise

Unleasing-coverSome of the most frustrating experiences for educators result from pendulum swings—those predictable actions and reactions that come from programming launched in response to the weaknesses of a previous program that was itself developed to address the weaknesses of what came before. Another toxic dynamic frequently found in schools occurs when entrenched teachers and administrative bullies cannot (or will not) search for common ground when their philosophies seem to have mutually exclusive priorities.

Professional development expert Jane A. G. Kise shows how to unknot these situations in her newest book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in Our Schools (Corwin, 2014). Using some of the most polarizing education issues of our time as her examples, Kise shows how “both sides are right. A more appropriate phrasing might be that both sides are accurate, but each is also incomplete.” Kise provides a framework for recognizing the positive and negative aspects of each side of a polarity and then arriving at actions that are most likely to provide outcomes agreeable to both sides.

Kise applies her model to grading controversies, teacher evaluation policies, knowledge vs. problem-solving approaches to math learning, choice reading vs. whole-class novels, and other common school-based conflicts. In each case, she shows how school personnel can first agree on a shared goal, and then set about designing programs that combine the best aspects of each perspective while keeping a watchful eye on the downsides of each perspective.

The first part of the book explains how and why mapping these polarities is possible. The second part provides a detailed toolbox for using polarity mapping in professional development and with students. Richly explained with anecdotes and research, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences can change the trajectory of schools mired in philosophical differences, and show educators how to talk to each other in ways likely to bring about agreement rather than dissent.

Doesn’t that sound good right about now?

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