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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

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I am frustrated with public schools. I want to help make a difference, but I feel unwelcome to assist. How can I help make a difference with education at its core? I feel like I am helping apply bandages when broken bones go unattended. As a "non-teacher", I feel like an unwelcome outsider who "doesn't know" and "should let experts do their job". I've tutored, been a guest speaker, built software tools, helped develop compacts, and assisted teachers in different capacities. (These were on my own initiative; the most I ever received going through official channels was an automated "thank you for signing up".) The core of public schools is going in the wrong direction. They are too focused on tests and curriculum rather than inspiring innovation. They blame the government for these burdens. They blame lack of resources. They blame lack of… It does not take the latest technology or the most expensive classrooms or highest paid teachers. It takes looking at the system differently. Focus on teaching the kids the skills to innovate and tap into their desire to learn; then they will learn the curriculum. There are approaches that have made a difference. Many do not require additional costs per se, but they do require shifts that bureaucracy is not likely to make (e.g. starting school days a little later, longer school days, exercise programs, concerted efforts by all the teachers). I can no longer afford to be patient on the sidelines. I witnessed many district initiatives go no where over the past decade. My daughter enters the education system in the next few years. How can I help make a difference with education at its core?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Comments (42)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Mary Kate, your comment about charter schools peeked my interest. I am trying to figure out an actionable next step there. The overriding thought is to reengage charter schools as pilots for public schools. How do we get public schools to begin adjusting what they are doing based on what works in successful charter schools? What are some actionable steps to bridge that gap?

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Mary Kate and Dvanler, thank you for engaging in this dialog. I want to clarify something. Please don't take it the wrong way. I don't want to spend time doing the repetitive, daily tasks. I understand it is valuable, but while those tasks help one teacher here and there, they have little effect on tomorrow, when they need to be done again. I wish to help teachers at a different level. Dvanler stated, "as a teacher, my hands are tied". THAT is what I where I want to assist. I want to focus my time untying teacher hands so they can focus on teaching long after I am gone. I assume this has to do with bureaucracy or restrictions. What are some of those major items that tie teachers hands?

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I totally understand where you are, and I've been there myself. I volunteer at school for chaperoning, tutoring, after school activities and the like; I sit on the Tech committee for the school district. All of these things help me understand and build relationships with teachers and the administration, so we can find ways to work together and make more substantive changes than baking cookies for the bake sale alone.

Going to PTO meetings helps, and showing up at school functions, talking to the staff, etc. but you have to be proactive about forming these relationships. Over time, you become one of those parents they ask to help, once they figure out you're not crazy. :) Now I feel like I'm a more integral part of the education community, and in fact, when we have a conference this fall we're calling "tech Fusion", it will be part professional development for teachers in the area. but we're also going to have a parent/community track to help folks understand how and why tech (and which technologies) are being used in the classroom, understanding social media and how to monitor their child's participation in it as well as their own, etc.

Will Richardson is also trying to create a national Parents back to School night for the fall as a way to have a national open forum on education and to try to build these bridges as well- I hope it works out!

Hubert V. Yee's picture
Hubert V. Yee
social media and marketing manager of startup

Hi dbixby001,

I worked with a group of HS Youth to document the bullying. It was part qualitative and quantitative research conducted by them. Working with a public interest law caucus and multiple Youth-focused community organizations, we publicized the issue. We also worked with educating the lawmakers. There were changes to policy, but I believe that it was only a good first step. Decision makers and executioners of policy need to be synced. It's a tough process to reform education, but every step counts.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

I didn't mean to suggest that homeschooling is for everyone, far from it. What I do want to suggest is that engaging in alternatives like homeschooling or charter schooling or private schooling is not a cop-out, but another avenue toward reform.

Practices which work in these settings can often be transferred to other settings to the greater benefit of all children, even those whose parents have not yet learned to advocate for and support them. In addition, we can find other like-minded families in these alternative settings and that collaboration can support action.

The changes which need to be made in order to untie teachers' hands require a fundamental shift in attitude and philosophy on the part of adults involved in education. Perhaps we ought to focus on attitude change. The proper media vehicle employed at the proper moment could cause the groundswell of support needed to unseat the status quo. Little glimmers are showing in many areas. People are creating alternatives, demanding change, and objecting to business as usual.

Let's hope the proper leadership will emerge when the old guard gives way. There's never any guarantee that a particular revolution will yield a satisfactory leader. Make no mistake, nothing less than philosophical revolution is required for the success of school reform.

MK

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Mary Kate, your point is good about the attitude change. You are also right about the "proper media vehicle... at the proper moment". We need to break out-dated mindsets of parents and teachers (and students too). It may happen as it is, but how do we help encourage that shift?

Frank Monachello's picture
Frank Monachello
Parent of 2 children who are currently in higher education.

At the elementary level, I have always believed that the parent or guardian of each student enrolled be required to attend parent-teacher conferences and submit a follow-up form that confirms what actions the parent and teacher agreed the parent would take to help support the student at home. Fulfillment of this requirement should have an impact on whether or not the student is advanced to the next grade.

At the secondary level, I have always believed that the public schools should meet with and continuously dialogue with the Human Resource Professional Community in the United States. This should be done as professionally and routinely as possible so as to make the public schools accountable for at least providing the type of secondary level education and training that focus on those skill-sets that are most valued by Human Resource Professionals when screening individuals as potential employees within their organizations. The survival of this country in the global economy demands better alignment between the training provided in secondary schools and the skills required for life-long employment in the private or public sectors.

A Great Teacher's picture

I so agree with you about the testing and preparing for testing that many public schools must do. But please don't blame that on the teachers. High stakes testing is what forces teachers to do so many boring worksheets. We must prepare our students to take endless state tests to prove that we are teaching. I wish with all my heart that I could spend more time getting kids to love reading, math, and science. But, the high stakes testing that this countries politicians are pushing for forces me to continue down the wrong path. I do know how to get kids excited about school and as soon as the state test is over we will have a blast with problem solving, science experiments, reading, reading and reading some more great books. Maybe it would be better to head to your state capitol with a group of parents and stop the maddness of high stakes testing.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

Gandhi had some good advice on this topic. He said, "Be the change you wish to see." That's what alternative schools and homeschoolers have done.

There's a great Ted.com video about decision making among herd animals. Researchers discovered some very democratic tendencies. Animals in the herd begin to face in the direction the herd might go next, and when a majority are facing in the same direction, the herd goes that way.

I think the question you are asking is what will make the majority turn our way. The answer is success. We need to continue to demonstrate consistent success when applying the changes we advocate. This is one reason that alternatives to public schooling are so important in the road to reform. They have demonstrated that the changes we are advocating facilitate learning for many children and help to nurture children's natural learning drive.

The moment when the majority begins to turn our way is a critical moment for us. In the past reform efforts have been derailed when the public schools try a new idea, implement it poorly, and then claim it is bogus. We must be very clear that any true implementation of these reform strategies requires training, potentially many hours of training. We should also be prepared for the pitfall that everyone may not be capable of getting on this bandwagon. What's to become of the teachers and administrators who cannot change?

MK

A Great Teacher's picture

Did you know that some of the private and charter schools do not have to have there children take the state test mandated for public schools? That is why they can be so innovative.

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