While home for Thanksgiving, I had an interesting conversation with my mother and brother. My mother is a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, just a year from retirement. My brother is a high school principal in North Carolina, about to begin pursuing a doctorate. I’m a consultant to public school districts across the country, with a degree in communication, not education.
Not surprisingly, as we began to talk about work (and my dad went to take a nap because we were boring him), we discussed the same handful of issues that educators hear about over and over —teacher/principal evaluations, standardized testing and shrinking budgets. While we agreed on the core issues, we also acknowledged that there is a wide spectrum of ideas about how to address them.
Administrators might tell you that teachers and principals need to be held to higher standards. If schools are failing, it’s because teachers are failing.
The states might tell you that we need hard data on how our kids are doing, and the only way to get it is to test them — repeatedly.
Teachers might tell you the pressure to raise test scores stifles their ability to teach because standardized tests only capture a portion of the work they do. In their opinion, there’s no test to measure the amount of counseling and role modeling they provide for their students.
So, while our own personal views on how to fix what’s wrong with our schools were somewhat divergent, two things became abundantly clear through the course of our conversation.
First, we are all passionate about finding ways for students to succeed.
Second, the solutions that were offered all made sense.
While these aren’t exactly Earth shattering revelations, I think that they are important to keep in mind. When we work under the assumption that all kids should succeed, the paths we take to reach success become less important.
That’s not to say the ends are more important than the means. (That view diminishes the importance that a personal connection with a teacher can make in a student’s life.) Rather, it’s to say that the more entrenched positions we take on any single subject only stand to put our schools at risk.
There may not be a silver bullet that will save public education, but through collaboration, communication and compromise, we have our best shot at helping students succeed.