Education will never change unless we do this…
Lessons I’ve learned after 20 years inside the K12 system that can help teachers, parents and admin build a better school
If you are expecting to read an article that will confirm everything you know about schools, why they fail, what’s wrong with the system and why teachers are quitting, you are in for a shock.
I am going to validate your feelings and your beliefs, but then I’m going to show you how your feelings and beliefs jumped off a cliff a long time ago.
I have the unenviable position of showing you where you got lost. Trust me, I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but you are lost and it would be shameful of me not to guide you back to the path.
Think of it like Bugs Bunny taking that wrong turn at Albuquerque.
Current State of Affairs
Here’s what you got right. The K12 system is broken and failing students. Because of our inadequate school system, income disparity is at an all time high, college loan debt is at catastrophic levels and everyone is upset, unhappy and dissatisfied with the quality of education they received.
But here’s where you walked off the path and got lost.
The people in charge of every single school and every single decision made inside schools rests on the shoulders of the elected school board members. One of the main issues preventing change is that these volunteer elected officials (they do not get paid) is they are in way over their heads.
If an issue happens in a classroom, the elected school board members are in over their heads. They do not have the educational background, the psychological background, the classroom experience or the full understanding of what the teacher and administration should or should not do.
This is a huge problem because teachers and administrators are making decisions every single day that affect the lives of students and families and the people in charge are not equipped to determine if those decisions are right or wrong.
Moreover, when parents complain to the Superintendent or show up to a school board meeting, the volunteer elected officials cannot answer their questions with clear goals in mind.
This problem cannot be fixed unless school board members learn about the fundamentals of what a school, teacher and administrator should be doing. Not to mention, how they should be doing it and when they should be doing it.
Running a school district is a lot more complex than parents and the general public seem to comprehend and that’s also where people have gotten lost off the path.
Let’s start with the issues teachers face inside the classroom.
If you believe that teachers are in charge, I have to remind you that the school board is in charge not the teacher. The teacher is an employee of the district, not the leader of the district.
It’s the districts job to provide the teacher with a curriculum map, so they can write lesson plans.
But do you know how teachers should write lesson plans? Do you know there are best practices related to lesson planning? And did you know that principals and supervisors should be helping teachers write their lesson plans if they want to ensure meeting the needs of students.
Not only that, but were you aware that 99% of curriculum maps in America are not written properly. Thus, the maps provided to teachers are already inaccurate, which means all of the teacher’s lesson plans will also be inaccurate.
Whose in charge? The school board.
Quality of Education
Let’s look at the content being taught in the classroom for a second. There is a lot of controversy around this issue. It’s understandable. It may seem like teachers are making content choices that run counter to the goals of the district or of American society.
But it only seems that way because until you read the previous section, you didn’t know the curriculum maps given to teachers, by the school district, were not written correctly.
When a teacher has an inadequate curriculum map, they are told to “figure it out” on their own. If parents want to get upset, they should be upset at the people in charge who forced teachers to “guess” what should be taught in class.
The situation gets even worse, when you learn that some teachers ask the students “what do you want to learn today?” And if you don’t believe me this happens, just check Facebook, twitter and instagram and you will see post after post by teachers asking for advice on “what” they should be teaching in class.
The quality of education starts with a quality curriculum map.
Whose in charge again? The school board.
Quality of Instruction
Let’s take a quick look at teacher quality. How much understanding do school board members have when it comes to quality teaching? Do they know what a teacher needs to do, in order to become an expert teacher?
The answer is sadly no. School board members are not aware of how to help teachers develop their skills and talents. In 99% of cases, the school board expects the teachers to figure out how to become great on their own.
Name me one career that puts 100% of the responsiblity of training for their career on the employee? Doctors have internships and residencies before they are allowed to be full-fledged doctors. Lawyers start out as associates and work their way up to partners in a firm.
Carpenters, electricians and plumbers all have apprenticeships to learn the craft before a customer will trust they won’t screw up the job.
Not teachers. Interesting?
From Day One out of college, a novice teacher is expected to be an expert and when they make mistakes (which of course they will make) they are blamed for being stupid, a horrible teacher or worse.
I’ve used the NBA analogy many times in this regard because it paints the picture so clearly. Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Garnett all went straight from high school to the NBA. All of them did not play All-Star minutes or score All-Star points in their first year.
In fact, Kobe took way too many shots that he missed in his rookie season.
Did the LA Lakers tell Kobe he sucked? Did the LA Lakers blame Kobe for being a rookie? That would have been insane. They drafted him in the first round because they belived in him and his potential. How come school districts don’t do the same thing with teachers they hire?
I recorded a video on YouTube titled “There is no such thing as bad teachers.”
And the reason is — there is no such thing as a bad teacher. If you see a teacher make a mistake, that’s what happened — they made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference between an expert teacher and a struggling teacher is expert teachers one, can identify the mistake and two, know how to fix it.
Being a teacher is a very difficult and demanding job, but it’s not complicated. The problem that has occurred is the K12 system has made teaching complicated on top of being difficult and demanding.
Whose in charge of eliminating the complexity? The school board.
We all want students to be successful when they get older. It doesn’t matter what town you grew up in, what skin color you have or what cultural background you come from — you care about your kids.
The last thing you want to do is torture them or waste their time, except that’s exactly what the entire K12 system does.
But you walked off the path again. You want to point the finger, you want to know whose fault is it? Well, whose in charge? You’re starting to get the theme here, yes, the school board is in charge. They set the district goals, they set the district agenda, they hire the teachers, they provide the professional development, they place the administrators in charge to monitor the whole mess.
I hear what you are saying, anyone would ask the same question, “so then how do we fix this?”
There are only two ways to fix the problem. I’m not talking about solving one issue, I’m referring to fixing the entire situation.
This solution is the harder one to accomplish and implement. It’s harder because it requires every single person involved in the school district to put on their student hat and begin learning about what it takes to run a school district the right way.
I hear the critics, “but what makes you an expert?”
It’s a valid question. So here’s my background. I have over 20 years inside the K12 system. I started my career as a teaching assistant before becoming a teacher of technology and then high school social studies. I left education to pursue my Masters in Educational Leadership, while I also became a press secretary and speech writer for the NJ General Assembly.
After I earned my Masters, I became a Director of Special Education, then a Principal and lastly a Superintendent. I developed a comprehensive Teacher Development Program in 2009. I was one of the first superintendents to implement a 21st century curriculum in my high school in 2011 and I have helped thousands of administrators through my Principal’s Academy that I started in 2013.
I have walked through the development process with over 5000 teachers, support staff and administrators in my career. I know how difficult the job is, I know what the common mistakes are and I also know how to help teachers and administrators learn and develop their skills and talents.
Based on all of this experience, Solution #1 requires every person in the school district to learn everything I know. Solution #1 requires school board members to understand how to develop talent in every teacher and administrator in their district.
You can’t expect to be an effective leader if you don’t understand what the employees are supposed to do.
Once school board members are fully versed in the development process and stages for teachers and administrators, then they need to focus on becoming experts in curriculum design and content. And for those keeping score at home, curriculum has two components (design and content.)
In plain English, school board members can’t just focus on “what” is taught in class, but also “how” it is taught. And in case you didn’t realize this, teachers (all teachers) want to learn how to do this at an expert level.
If school boards want to go with Solution #1, I highly recommend hiring Ed Consultant and the world’s leading expert on curriculum design, Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs and her team at Curriculum 21. If you do decide to go that route, I would hope you would consider me to help with the “content” that goes into the design maps.
Because you can’t forget about the content.
Solution #1 will take one year for everyone in the district to fully understand what is required of them and then one more year to implement and one full school year to practice. Therefore, Solution #1 will take three full years to get up to speed.
Solution #2 is much easier to implement because it doesn’t require everyone in the district to know everything. As you can see from Solution #1, there is a lot that teachers, administrators and school board members need to learn. Hopefully by reading this article, you now recognize how much you ASSUMED you knew beforehand.
The system is failing just because people don’t have the expertise they thought they did. Thus when problems creep up, there is no one equipped to solve them. It’s no one’s fault.
And that is so hard to fathom. How can a failing school system be no one’s fault? Because what it takes to prepare students for the 21st century is really hard work and dedication. This isn’t easy folks.
But this is why Solution #2 is much easier to implement.
If we can agree that the system is failing and it’s not anyone’s fault. Meaning that teachers, administrators and school board members are not purposefully ruining the futures of students, then we can agree that the solution has to be that the people in charge need to be responsible and find someone who knows what is going on.
Solution #2 is finding a real expert.
Solution #2 will be much faster than Solution #1. Once a district finds a real expert, it will take one summer to redesign and rewrite the curriuclum maps. It will take a few months to help the teachers write their lesson plans. It will take 6–12 months to provide teachers with expert level professional coaching.
Once teachers receive professional level coaching, it will take two full school years for a majority of teachers to raise their skill level to expert or close to it. (There will be teachers who continue to struggle).
It will take 3–6 months to help administrators restructure their day, focus on the priorities of the district and not get distracted by “shiny” new things that the Education Industrial Complex wants to sell schools.
Whereas Solution #1 will take a full school year to get everyone up to speed, Solution #2 can be implemented right away.
As an expert educator, I know you have questions. That’s a good sign. If you have questions it means you understood what I presented, but you want to go deeper. Having questions does not mean you disagree with the ideas presented.
Too many people misunderstand the value of questions.
Here’s what you can do to get your questions answered:
- You can put your questions and comments in the comment section of this article. I read them all, and I will try to respond in a timely manner.
- If you want to speak directly to me, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @theschooldoc
- If you want to be an agent of positive change, you can share this article on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn with teachers, parents and administrators.
Also don’t forget to follow me on here, so you get emailed whenever I post a new article.
There is a lot of information in this article, but it in no way covers everything you need to know or answers all of your questions. That’s the point. Running a school is a lot more difficult than people give it credit. School board members need to know a lot more about education, teaching and development than they originally realized.
The situation is not anyone’s fault. Pointing the finger at someone, teachers, administrators or school board members assumes they created this mess on purpose. No one wants the system the way it is. No one!
But when no one knows how to fix it, the situation gets worse and worse — regardless of how you feel in your heart.
If education only had to do with compassion and love — then America would have the best school system in the world. But preparing kids for the 21st century takes a lot more talent than just love and compassion.