People are different, look around you the next time you go shopping, fill your car up with gas, go to school…

Schools should be different also. No one school is perfectly set up to work with every single student. Private schools, charter schools, home schools, public schools all have their place. It is important that all of these different pieces of the education puzzle work together. They are all unique. They all reach different populations. Parents can choose which of these models of education best serve their families.

When looking at public schools, they should have the opportunity to be different from each other. Yes there should be some thread of commonality, families move and this can be challenging when all schools are in all different places educationally. However, there needs to be some freedom for public schools to think differently and outside of the box, alter the school day timing or the structure of the scheduling.

What about grouping students by ability instead of by age? What about re-thinking the way that we enroll students and allow for more choice? What about allowing schools to help students be creative instead of limit them to massive amounts of test prep? What about taking the fear of failure away from teachers and allow them to teach?

One of the things that helped the Allies win World War II was the ingenuity of the American Armed Forces. If a problem came up, they got creative, thought outside the box, and found a solution. One the issues with the German Army was its dependence on orders and not stepping outside that system. If there was a problem, it went up the chain of command until their was an answer, then back down it went.

Teachers and schools are scared of students failing high stakes tests, as a result, there is a massive amount of intense and focused test prep. Students are learning how to bubble in tests. They are not learning how to be creative and think outside the box to solve real world issues.

When real life hits them – renting an apartment, grocery shopping, buying a car – none of these things require students to bubble in a form and send it off. I know that testing has its place, but we are losing the opportunity to develop curiosity and creativity.

All of this emphasis on testing has pushed school districts to buy test prepping materials and super focused curriculum. Most of these materials script out what a teacher does in the classroom, taking away the “teaching” part of being a teacher. This push has turned the classroom into a place that does not require a professionally trained teacher, just someone who can follow the directions that were scripted out in the “teacher resources” part of the purchased curriculum.

Teachers need to be able to teach – they know exactly what their students need. They know the issues that the students are bringing into the classroom. They are professionals and have gone to college to learn how to teach children. Several teachers have masters degrees and have gone even further by becoming nationally board certified. Let these amazing individuals do what they have been trained to do. Quit taking it away from us – TRUST US! I promise that we will not let you down!

This can be hard, but is it possible? Imagine guiding our students, giving them age appropriate choices as they move through their education. From elementary school to high school, we can give our students more choice. I understand that the younger the student the more structured it would be, but imagine what this could look like in five years.

If high school students had spent the previous eight years of school being given choices in their education, what would they choose in high school? What if the high school students could just pick what they wanted to take and what teacher they wanted to have? What if elementary students had a few more choices in their school day? What if…

As an adult I have choices to make all of the time, I have made mistakes, and learned from them. I have made some great choices (meet my wife!!) and some not so good ones (that one time when…). Let’s start letting our students make those choices now, let them learn from mistakes and be better for it.

It has become this beast that impacts everything in public education. Testing is important, teachers use different types of assessment all year long to guide their instructional practice (when it is not scripted for them). Getting timely feedback on a standardized test to help students reach their potential is not bad. Getting results back four months after a student has left my classroom doesn’t help either one of us. Testing is not so important that billions of dollars each year should be spent on administering them. How would our system be different if we took the money that is being used to pay for testing and re-invest that in our system? One of the complaints that is used against public education is that it is top heavy with administration. My question: How many of those administrators are tied up in working on testing? The answer may surprise us all.

Investing in our future should never be questioned. Ever. There should never be a question about this – it takes a community to educate our children. How much should we invest? The better question is – How important is your child’s future success? It takes time, money, patience, and persistence.

Invest in teachers – there should never be a shortage like we are experiencing. The question to ask is why are experiencing this? What can we do to reverse this trend?

Invest in buildings/infrastructure – why do we not maintain outstanding facilities FOR ALL STUDENTS? All too often the opportunity to address crumbling school buildings is through a local bond issue – some places have a difficult time passing bonds. Is there a way to help these communities?

Invest in students – give them every opportunity to succeed, whether its in the form of technology, providing food for those who need it, targeted outreach for non-English speaking families. Think outside the box. Make this a priority.

This is hard, but it should not matter what community you live in when you look at teacher pay, building structure, busses, food services, or any other school related item. These are OUR kids. This is OUR future. Let’s ensure that it doesn’t matter if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Vici, Idabel, Durant, Woodward, or any other school district. How can we make sure that all students have equal opportunities inside of equally well kept facilities?

This is a hard question to answer, but Finland figured it out. It is okay to take ideas from people doing it right and applying that thinking to what we are doing. It is okay to want the very best for our children and striving to do it. It is okay to think differently about an educational system that favors zip codes.

Equity for all is hard. Equity for all is important.

Yes it is. When you try something new, you often fail the first few times. You learn. You try again. It is a part of life and it happens when we first start learning to walk. There are some tumbles in that process and it continues when we learn to ride a bike or water ski or snowboard. Life is full of failures that we are not punished for. Learning should be no different. Students should be allowed to fail and learn from it. They do not need to be saved from failure or on the other end, punished for it.

Teachers should not be punished for trying something new. There will be some failing along the way, but its the learning from that failure that is so critical. If I am having a surgery done, I want that to go perfect. If I am on an airplane or a cruise ship, I want to get from destination to destination without incident. Doctors and pilots have had the opportunity to learn, and to practice through simulation (where failure is safe) so that they can be the experts they are, prepared for any contigency. Teachers should be in that same category. Students should be in that same category.

Failure is an option.

What did I miss? What are you for? Leave a comment…