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I’ve always said that the people most likely to come up with the best ideas for improving schools are the teachers who populate them. And I still believe that. But, teachers are rarely asked to provide creative solutions to the many problems of schools today—lack of funding, overdependence on testing, under-motivated students, and all the rest. But, that ends here. Lets have some serious fun by suggesting honest-to-goodness possibilities that will make schools better.
My only caveat is that we NOT try to maintain or recreate what we already have…only with fewer resources. Research and those serious about improving schools (as opposed to “changing” or “reforming schools”) know that we have to do “different” things, not just do things “differently. We can’t continue to do things in 2012 and beyond that were designed for schools 100 years ago. Nine month school calendars, six hour school days, 45 minute class periods, one teacher with 25-35 students, worksheets, teacher-directed lessons, and standardized tests are just a handful of outmoded practices that could be easily swapped out to make schools more productive.
But enough rationale…let’s get to the good stuff. I’ll start with several ideas to get started, but then I want you to add to this discussion. Be wild, be crazy, have fun…and make some excellent ideas for improving schools.
1. Change how we organize students and teachers. With declining resources, the model of one teacher working with a group of students no longer works. Cooperation, collaboration are key. The original idea of a four or five teacher middle school team needs to be reconsidered. How about two or three teachers to work with an appropriate number of students? These teams are THE primary instructional unit for the school. And here’s the kicker…all professionals in a school become part of a team serving students. No more specialists who work outside the team structure.
2. Technology and learning is the key. Do I really need to say anything about this? The possibilities are endless. Blended classes—have students work from home one day a week allowing teachers needed professional development time. Or, have half the students work from home one day a week, giving more individualized time for those students in school. Independent work. Project-based learning. Global connections. Using students’ expertise for teaching their peers and their teachers. Technology and learning is the elephant in the classroom. It should positively influence every one of these suggestions.
3. Professional development runs the show. Three levels of PD are needed—school-based as defined by the needs and values of the individual school; team-based depending on the direction of the team, and; district-based depending on the direction of the school and community. This is exactly backward from the usual way PD is typically done. In other words, professional development is controlled by the teachers based on the needs of their students. Of course, technology allows 24/7 PD, but the team structure makes it happen. Common planning time is absolutely essential, but it must be accomplished in creative ways where students are working independently within the team.
4. Eliminate substitute teachers in your school or district and use that money for more important things. (I didn’t say these ideas would make me popular!) Last year, in a small school district not too far from where I live, the district spent nearly $120,000 on substitute teachers. In a school where I taught early in my career, we had a very workable plan for our “no outside substitute teachers”. We needed that money for our programs and we were willing to take on extra students and substitute for our colleagues who were out. When teachers are organized into teaching teams, it especially makes sense to have them taught by teachers who know their students best, their “regular” teachers. It takes some planning, but it can be done!
“Good is the enemy of great” and perhaps that is exactly why we are so hesitant to change the way our schools look and run. Here in 2012 we have an educational system that fits our society perfectly…if it were 1940.
How are these ideas consistent with “Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First”?
What are your ideas for improving middle level schools?