George Lucas Educational Foundation

50 Little Things Teachers, Parents, and Others Can Do to Improve Education

50 Little Things Teachers, Parents, and Others Can Do to Improve Education

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When it comes to education, politicians tend to go for the jugular. They pounce on big, high profile and often-controversial initiatives. From the National Defense Education Act, which came as a response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, to No Child Left Behind (or untested), from Common Core State Standards and tests to vouchers and charters, they hem and holler about anything and everything that might garner a vote. They take something as infinitely complex as education and whittle it down to a single, pungent sound bite. Meanwhile, school administrators turn to big-ticket items as well. Under fire to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), they desperately stalk the latest fad or quickest fix. Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), Direct Instruction (DI), boxed (and expensive) curriculum, 360º teacher and school evaluations and other assorted “Best Practices” are called upon to save the day. Principals, wading into the hallways like General MacArthur at Manila, not only vow to succeed, they often take aim for most of the credit.

As anyone who has ever been a student (hopefully everyone reading this - don’t forget to thank the appropriate people) would attest, it’s the little things – things teachers and parents do on a daily or even hourly basis that matter most. While big, bold initiatives sound good, look pretty, (cost a lot) and usually grab all the press; it’s the unheralded acts that, in the end, deliver results (Results our schools desperately need!).

The following are a few of the many little things teachers, parents and others can do to improve both teaching and learning:

1. Serve kids a good, healthy breakfast. And, before you do, check out the latest version of the USDA food “pyramid.”

2. Find out what your kids like (polls work well) and then find a way to incorporate them into your instruction or conversations at home.

3. Allow kids to explore their own topics – those that really matter to them.

4. Use BIG, humongous words (and encourage kids to do the same).

5. Ask tough questions – ones that involve more than a one-word response.

6. Give kids time to answer those hard questions. (More than the average 1.5 seconds!)

7. Discuss paintings, films, books, plays, etc.

8. In your discussions, expect more than “It was awesome!” or “That sucked.”

9. Demand (and model) the use of proper English (Spanish, German, Chinese…).

10. From handing out papers to sharpening pencils, adopt efficient routines and procedures. There’s a lot to be learned; every second counts!

11. Remove erasers: time spent erasing is time lost exploring creative ideas.

12. When watching television, turn on the closed captioning.

13. Make TV interactive by discussing the shows you watch.

14. Post the name of the book(s) you’re reading on the door to your classroom or at home: kids need to know that adults enjoy reading too!

15. Post the name of your alma mater, a favorite artist or work of art, daily or weekly challenges, essential questions, etc. as well. We all need things to aspire to...

16. Celebrate learning frequently (on the school website, over the intercom, in the newsletter, during parent-teacher conferences, on your refrigerator, etc.).

17. Create quiet and comfortable learning sanctuaries throughout campus and at home.

18. Get rid of the red ink. Provide feedback using positive, “happy” colors. Better yet, do it in person.

19. Assign homework that is both meaningful and engaging. Don’t allow it to squelch a child’s love of learning!

20. Encourage kids to keep a journal and have them write in it every day.

21. Tell and listen to stories a lot.

22. Be consistent with rules. Children flourish when they know their boundaries.

23. Listen to and discuss music – all kinds of music. (By the way, Karaoke is a fun way to practice reading!)

24. Display student work, and the criteria used to evaluate it, everywhere.

25. Use mnemonic devices and other learning “tricks.”

26. Read with your child for at least 15 minutes every night, if not longer.

27. Discuss, question, and debate what you read.

28. Read and write just for fun. Whenever!

29. Keep pets and plants at home and in the classroom.

30. Eliminate unnecessary distractions during the school day. Silence the bell!

31. Constantly relate what is being taught to what is going on in the real world.

32. Listen to audio books whenever and wherever possible.

33. Allow kids time to reflect on what they’ve learned.

34. Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible. A quick shout-out, a thumbs-up, a high-five…all work.

35. Call on students in an equitable manner (popsicle sticks, playing cards, etc.).

36. Find, bookmark, and visit great educational websites like pbs.org, smithsonian.edu, nationalgeographic.com, and edutopia.org.

37. Explore your backyard, a nearby park, a local museum, an antique shop, etc.

38. Play intellectually challenging games like Scrabble, chess, and Sudoku.

39. Take an interest in what children are learning (“What did you discover today?” “Wow, that sounds amazing!” and “Tell me about it!”).

40. Eat well-rounded, healthy snacks.

41. Have real conversations while dining. (Foreign Language tables can be fun!)

42. Don’t stress – it’s not good for your health or your teaching.

43. Exercise (you and your kids) on a regular basis. Stretches, calisthenics and/or yoga between (and during) activities.

44. Play organized (and unorganized) sports. Remember what Wellington said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

45. Don’t complain – it rarely does any good.

46. Set high standards, for yourself and your kids. Expect success.

47. Travel. Go to far-flung places that challenge the way you and your children view the world.

48. Make sure your kids (and you) get a good night’s sleep.

49. Practice what you teach (O.k., that’s actually a big thing!).

50. Smile. A lot!

Note on BIG things:

The right big things can have a profound impact on both teaching and learning. If I were Secretary of Education, I would pursue the following:

• Federalize funding for public education. A child should never be penalized for growing up in a poor state, district, or neighborhood.

• Speaking of spending, make sure that 75 cents or more on the dollar finds its way into the classroom. In many districts, that percentage is discouragingly low.

• Adopt year-round schooling. Make teaching a full-time profession with full-time pay! Today, our students (and teachers) are prisoners of an outdated calendar.

• Follow Finland’s lead, and do away with subject-specific courses. It’s not how the real-world works.

• Design a curriculum geared toward the future. Take into consideration the global economy and our increasingly small, flat world.

• Make the Arts a part of everything we do! Why? Because they matter!


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.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

This is a great list! But I have to admit that I laughed at #18. I still use red ink, but I also take the time to explain to my students that it is red "like a red bow wrapped around my gift to you." While students may think red ink on their paper means mistakes, I work hard to teach them that the red ink is there to help them improve on their next draft. It would be a lot easier for me to just slap a grade on the top of the paper and not spend time giving them feedback. But my feedback is my gift to them so they know how they're doing. Eventually they ask me to please give them that feedback! So it's all in the training - red or whatever color works!

Folwell Dunbar's picture
Folwell Dunbar
Founder at Fire Up Learning

Good point! I've actually become addicted to giving feedback via "tracking changes" in Word. But, face-to-face is still my favorite.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

True - these days most of my feedback is via Google Docs. And face-to-face, while ideal, is just so difficult with 165 students!

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