What if we made school change a little more simple?

Over the past six months a tiny advocacy group has been showing the film Most Likely to Succeed to educators and parents throughout one of the largest counties in the state.

Their rationale for bringing the film was simple: to ignite a conversation about learning.

As part of the viewing experience every person is sent a survey to capture feedback. One question asks respondents to (in one word) describe what they want school to be for their kids. After the first showings (with a little under 500 people on the viewing list) these are the most common words that were shared (see graphic below).

Look at those words? Those words reflect passion, a commitment to kids, and a desire for school to be purposeful and meaningful for today’s kids.

We used to think purpose meant basic skills. For a while now we have defined purpose as test preparation. Today with the research on learning at hand we can achieve those two historical drivers of school, while attending to the words that community members chose to describe in that graphic above.

How? This is where it gets fun. The how is so simple that’s it’s not only comforting but you might just breathe a sigh of relief. Here it is…

If we engage and empower kids in authentic learning experiences that embed the learning and use of skills they will do better academically over time AND they will find school to be purposeful and meaningful.

The reasons we aren’t jumping in (given available data) boil down to lack of shared vision, competing priorities (e.g., use this staged curriculum AND let kids be curious), and fear that if teachers halt didactic instruction test scores will flounder.

What if we did five things and made this entire process simple?

  1. Get feedback from everyone in the community (equitably) including preK families. Ask them what they want school to be.
  2. Use that feedback to establish five commitments that you will keep for kids (see graphic above for examples).
  3. Dig into the research on those five things and make sure every principal and teacher knows how to move the needle on those things. Side note make sure your system is engaging current and future parents in learning about all of this as well.
  4. Collect baseline data for all five commitments (we have the tools, it is time we use them).
  5. Watch a community driven, kid focused age of education unfold, respond to emerging data, continue training more deeply, and make sure the systems that support classroom instruction change along the way.
Seriously it doesn’t sound that hard right?

Why? Because it’s not. Pick up any educational change book worth its salt and I can pretty much guarantee that these five simple steps are the core of that process.

So why are we making it so hard?

Who the hell knows; but the future of our kids (and our public schools and our capacity to bring new innovators to our communities and uphold our almighty property taxes) depends on it.

Stop making excuses, stop passing the buck. Every superintendent, school board member and leader (no matter where they lead from) in education needs to pick up and lead.

Don’t make this harder, more political, or more worrisome than it needs to be. Work from your community, to research, through continuous data, to outcomes that start and end with one group: OUR KIDS. And if you think change isn’t necessary pull out some data to prove it.

Get busy.