We see a need to do things differently but have concerns about a parental revolt. At that point, education leaders (teachers, principals, etc….”eds”) must make a choice:
- devise a plan that might convince the parents
- do what parents think they want to see, and make it appear successful
With the threat of being on the nightly news for attempting a newsworthy change, one can only wonder how many great ideas have died before they ever had a chance to improve student outcomes. After all, most eds have their own families to think about. To risk the failure of a bold initiative could catapult their own family into financial crisis. Who can blame eds from taking a safer position up front?
But if you have the faith and courage to step out, I have found a particular path to be very successful:
- Share the “what.” What’s happening that needs to be considered? Many leadership models start with the “why,” but I think that’s a mistake. I think parents can figure out the “why” if we share the “what.” Allowing parents to think, rather than telling them what to think, respects their intelligence.
- Let parents express the “what” in their own words. Let them talk about the importance of changing the “what.” That helps them see the “why.”
- Have ideas ready for fixing the “what,” but don’t doubt that many parents will also have great ideas to help shape the next steps.
- After implementing next steps generated from discussions with parents, report back as honestly, humbly, and as transparently as possible: continually seeking parent input and sharing back how their input has made a positive difference.
As I seek to make mathematics education better, my “what’s” have included:
- Students like “easy learning,” but are very confused about what they have learned in the past and retention is low.
- Too many students don’t believe that working hard to learn math is worth their effort or that good progress is within their reasonable reach.
- Inequity is pervasive: Some students are fully aware of the impact of (and opportunities within) STEM, but others have no way of wrapping their minds around a good reason for learning Math.
To introduce the “whats,” I share examples with which the parents can empathize. I tell them about my own sons that were told they weren’t “math people” from their 5th grade teachers (in two different States, 7 years apart). My favorite example for “easy learning” is “turtle-head multiplication.” My questions for parents is, “What’s right with that? What’s wrong with that? What is our goal?” The discussion inevitably drives the “what” in the direction of needing to fix it. To help parents of older students understand why students are bored to tears trying to memorize math stuff without making sense of it, I briefly explain adding “like terms” with exponential expressions. I show them same bases with same exponents, give them another example, and watch their eyes cross. Then I pass out this and watch them light up as the figure it out themselves. In this way, I begin to establish some credibility with the parents. They begin to believe that we can come up with some ideas for making math less painful, maybe even fun for their child in a way that makes sense to them and sticks.
My big “hows” continue to move forward and include:
- Inquiry-based learning (and I had huge concerns myself in the beginning!)
- Embedding social-emotional learning
- Embedding STEM awareness and STEM-friendly soft skills
If a mission has been laid on your heart and you are able to take the risks…if you have researched what has already been tried and you think you are working in the best interests of your students…go for it!