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Systemic Change in Our Education System Starts with Us or it Doesn't Start At All

The education system in our country is failing our students, teachers, and communities.

Without systemic change we will continue to see dedicated professionals leave in droves, creating an educational crisis for our children.

There is no dedicated pipeline of new teachers just waiting for jobs

There is no cohesive plan to change how things are done currently

There is no one coming to “rescue” us from a system that has been broken for far too long.

The systemic change we really need starts with us.

There are differing opinions of what exactly needs to change in schools:

We need better teachers

We need better school policies

We need less testing

We need fewer students in the classroom

We need earlier interventions

We need to not let kids pass from grade to grade before high school

We need to do better at teaching the individual child

We need more student-centered education

We need… we need… we need…

When I look at the education system my heart breaks for the stress and pressure teachers are under to fix everything with their students, the missed opportunities for students who don’t fit the mold, and the limiting philosophy that we can create a system that is a one-size-fits-all approach.

It grows angry also. Angry that kids are missing out. Angry that good teachers are leaving. Angry that it seems no one is listening.

I don’t have all the answers… far from it. But, I have watched the system I fought all of my life to be a part of disintegrate over the past 30 years since I became a teacher.

What do I believe is fundamental in creating any sort of systemic change? Parents and Educators willing to leave behind the one-size-fits-all mentality and instead create an inclusive definition of success.

How is success defined today? Pushing every child to perform at A+ levels in every subject in order to get into “good” colleges… some as early as kindergarten.

WHY is success defined this way?

When I first started teaching in 1992 students had multiple opportunities to pursue careers built into high school and promoted equally.

  • Community Colleges weren’t seen as “second best”

  • The military wasn’t seen as some unappreciated place for those who couldn’t make it elsewhere

  • Apprenticeships were more common, though largely informal, as students went to work in respectable trades with family members or family friends

  • And, if a student needed to take some time off to readjust, their time wasn’t seen as a waste.

  • College was respected, but not the only pathway promoted in school.

  • Collegiate athletics were for a very small percentage and most students understood they were not playing at that level without guilt or shame.

What on earth happened?

I’ll tell you: some powers-that-be decided to redefine student success as a college degree and changed the entire education system language to reflect that.

I watched that happen.

I watched as school boards and school districts changed graduation requirements and students no longer had space for career exploratory courses, or even something fun, because colleges required more and more of them.

I watched student anxiety rise to epidemic levels as they feared any and every mistake would prevent them from getting into college and, by default, become unsuccessful.

I watched as every other viable post-high school option was slowly and completely degraded until the only realistic option students felt they could choose was going to college. Prepared or not. On scholarship or in debt. With a future career in mind or not. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the pursuit of a college degree.

This is not how success should be defined.

It is unhealthy

It is unproductive

It is a detriment to our kids

EVERY child is different, and should be championed to think for themselves and choose for themselves the pathway that makes the most sense to them.

We need to redefine success to reflect the individual child and their mission to change the world in the way they were designed to.

No more one-size-fits-all approach.

As a parent you can start this systemic change at home:

  • Help your child see their future in terms of a career, not a college.

  • Educate your children about the multiple ways open to them to build the lifestyle they want to live.

  • Champion THEM to decide the best course for their future and love them as they wrestle through it, refraining from urging them to follow the path you think best.

  • Introduce them to as many people as you can to share their career pathways and what they do on a daily basis and the lifestyle they live.

  • Empower them to define success on their own terms and work with them to make it happen.

As educators we can start this systemic change in our own classrooms:

  • Change our own language to encourage our students to love who they are and value what they are passionate about regardless of whether they can pursue it in college or if it’s a “good” career.

  • Stop telling every child college is the answer and help them explore career pathways and other options to get there through your subject matter.

  • Use your subject matter to bring in resources to help students explore the world around them in terms of potential careers they may have never even heard of and encourage them to explore.

  • Champion your students to develop their own presentations of mastery of the standards in preparation for formal assessments.

  • Work with your Career/Guidance counselor to promote all the options available to your students.

Only we, parents and educators, can start the systemic change we all know we need in the education system in our country.

Only we, parents and educators, can empower our students to redefine success for themselves.

It starts with us or it doesn’t start at all.


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