As many educators and pundits begin to think about what public education should look like moving forward, we would like to take a moment to put forward some basic, simple principles for consideration. In thinking about what a school should be, we would like to build off of Ernest Boyer’s thoughts on the topic.
With that in mind, there are nine principles that we feel school and district leaders should consider in their planning for the 2021–22 school year. These nine principles are built on the notion that complexity breeds dysfunction. The more elaborate your plans, the more likely you are to have error. Let’s follow the KISS system here.
Principle number one has to be that public schools have an overriding purpose of equity. Public education is the tool with which our society hopes to level the playing field for all children and all other school policies should bend towards that end — specifically differing from policies that bend towards equality.
The second principle is that your school is a community of learners. All individuals in the community must embrace this role, not just the students. This means both being a learner as well as being a community member with all the commensurate rights and responsibilities that go along with that.
Third is the centrality of language in the school’s operations. The most important thing that schools can do is ensure that all students are literate. Further, in this age we do not mean simply being able to decode, although that is a necessary component. We mean that all students need to be able to read, and read critically.
Fourth is the importance of a coherent curriculum. While adults often experience school in a repeated annual cycle of the same year’s curriculum, students experience it in a vastly different way, progressing from one year to the next. Because most adults do not experience this, we don’t often consider the “user experience” and use our own experience in improving things. We have an obligation to ensure that our curriculum is high quality and builds unto itself from one step to the next.
The fifth principle is about empowering students. The end goal of school is to have independent and self regulating learners. This only happens with intentional and progressive instruction and practice in these areas. It is unreasonable to expect students to be mindlessly compliant on June 24 of their senior year and completely ready to be independent on June 25 right after commencement.
Sixth is the principle of parental partnerships. No one has more influence over a child than their parent. For staff to believe that they know better what a child needs is hubris. We have to embrace parents, be non-judgmental in working with them, and eager to learn from them.
Seventh is the role of teachers as leaders in the school. Problems are best solved closest to the problem. This is as true in schools as it is in factories. Teachers must be engaged in the problem identification and solution building processes if we hope to have schools that perform and continue to improve.
The eighth principle feels like it shouldn’t even need to be stated, but our experience tells us that we all need this reminder from time to time. Schools are built for the children and are about providing services for children. Get the adult issues off the table. The institution is not here for us.
Last, we have to be open to measuring for success. Whatever it is that we aim to do, we must have a way of knowing whether or not we achieved it and to what degree.
If we can master these nine principles before we get elbow deep in new technologies or other fancy programs, we will be miles ahead of where we were when the pandemic suspended so much schooling.
Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.
— Marcus Aurelius