I am reminded of an old 1970’s Paul McCartney & Wings song, “Let ‘Em In.” More than likely, this song was on the airways at the same time as many “Baby Boomers” last stepped foot into a school unless it was time to vote. A parent-teacher conference may have been the last time some parents visited a classroom if they visited the school at all. There are varied reasons why many adults don’t visit schools, but it should never be that they feel unwelcomed. Most importantly, are they asked?
Recently, I read a social media post from a man in his 50’s with no children. It read, “Is it time to move away from traditional classroom education?” I was awed by the threaded comments after his post. The “older social-media-using commentators” had lots to say. One wrote, “Kids spend all day staring at computer screens.” Another person believed, “There is very little to no human interaction.” My favorite was the person who claimed, “Nothing has changed. They teach exactly the same.” I asked each respondent when the last time any of them had actually been in a school or a classroom. I was not surprised that it had been years. Many of their comments were negative and dismissive but most intriguing was that their comments didn’t come from a place of actual knowledge or direct engagement. The media, mainstream and social, old beliefs, conjecture, and hearsay, formed their opinions that may or may not have had validity.
Then I questioned their local schools’ outreach, whose funding is sometimes dependent on these “older social-media-using commentators.” Would these stakeholders have a different view if they were welcomed to see how their tax investments or lack thereof were working?
I have had the greatest pleasure of traveling all over the United States to visit school districts. Through these awesome opportunities, I have been able to build relationships and become a thought partner with many prominent district leaders and educators. I have been invited into some of the most amazing classrooms where the students’ creativity is abounding and nurtured, where students’ collaboration would be awarded by Google and the integration of top-notch technology would wow recruiters from any technological university. I have also seen dedicated teachers who excel at the role of facilitator, ensuring students engage in meaningful dialogue and essential constructive debate to develop critical thinkers. All of these skills and experiences truly embrace a 21st Century classroom methodology. In addition, I have seen classrooms where students sit in traditional wooden desks and rows, where there is more disciplinary instruction than engaging interactions and 10-year-old, dog-eared, textbooks are being read to the dismay of bored students. In other words, I have witnessed the fabulous and not so fabulous in our US school systems. Many of the schools that have yet to advance towards an evolutionary classroom are not purposely bucking a system for growth as much as waiting for funding so that they too can join the 21stCentury education movement.
Technology, quality integrated content, and professional development cost money. Most educators that aren’t able to progress are well aware that better preparing students for college and the business world of the future is their imperative. Lack of funding in communities and for education has hindered many of these opportunities to ensure equitable education across the country. The ability for all students who enter college, military or the business world to be prepared and not stuck in the 1970’s era of hardback books, static curriculum and pen to paper lessons is what districts strive to achieve.
Taxes and bonds help school districts thrive and advance but how often are those who pay the taxes or vote for bonds visiting the classrooms that they are financially supporting? There are some school districts that currently invite community members to visit and share their teaching and learning experiences. It is rarer to see a deeper outreach to the whole taxpaying community which would include the “older social-media-using commentators.” Whether a school district is well funded and making the necessary innovative changes or struggling to meet the needs of all students, the community stakeholders should be welcomed to embrace and celebrate or at least become aware of what is needed. If taxpayers and the voting public don’t understand the needs of classrooms, why would they want to invest? Are parents and nonparents alike invited to schools to better understand the wishes and desires of educators or is there a hesitancy to share based on overly secured buildings and/or status quo thinking?
When business leaders, politicians, parents and the “older social-media-using commentators” embrace the need for progress and observe the work of educators, they may be more apt to invest financially and/or through volunteerism and most definitely become better evangelists from a more accurate perspective.
“Community Nights” may draw many but how about “Community Days” or both? When that school bond initiative arises or communities fuss over taxes, school leaders will have an easier job marketing their schools as their stakeholders will have first-hand and authentic knowledge of what is needed to do the best for kids.
There may be some legitimate excuses, such as providing necessary security measures or that students may be distracted. With good security planning, this issue can be overcome and students usually get used to visitors and the newness of visitors does wear off. How awesome would it be if the “old social-media-using commentators” became a genuine advocate for their current local K-12 district and the needs of students and teachers! Paul McCartney was right, “Do me a favor; open the door and let ‘em in.” Make note, they may need an invitation.