Some of the best advice I’ve ever received has come from parents, grandparents, students – and you, readers of this column. Here are a few examples, along with research about how some states have started seeking advice to help improve schools. In that spirit, I hope you’ll take a few minutes over the holidays to give me feedback.
Thinking back, I’ve seen many students benefit when educators listened to and followed advice from families or young people themselves.
I worked at a K-12 St. Paul public school that opened in 1971. After a few graduating classes, we began surveying graduates. They described many school strengths. There was one frequent recommendation: Increase the amount of required writing.
We did that. Graduates soon reported that they appreciated the writing preparation, whether they were continuing in colleges or working, or both.
A second example involved parents of kindergarten students at that school. Their 5-year-olds were allowed to take courses throughout the three floors of our building. After a month, many parents felt that the youngsters felt lost and sometimes frightened as they traveled throughout the building.
Teachers, including me, initially responded that the parents did not understand the value of a K-12 school. Part of the idea was to help students learn to be more self-reliant and confident. Parents liked this but urged creation of a home base for the kindergarten students. After some debate, the faculty followed the families’ suggestion. Results were immediate and positive. The parents were right.
Unfortunately, as a member of a school site council, I saw what happened when educators did not listen. Some years ago Hmong parents came to a district school where their youngsters were attending. They had two suggestions for spending a small percentage of state funds the school received to help students who did not speak English as a first language. Families recommended the school hire an office aide who spoke English and Hmong so that families could communicate. Though about 30% of the school’s students were Hmong American, no staff member spoke that language. The families also asked for funds to be spent on an after-school class to help both students and families learn English quickly.
Unfortunately the principal and staff rejected this advice. Many of the families then created a chartered public school that did what they (wisely) recommended.
St. Louis Park High School teacher Kara Cisco, working with a Minnesota group called EdAllies, published a Dec. 16 blog urging that schools survey students. She told me that after doing this, she has “modified certain reading strategies, added more structure to Socratic seminars and completely dropped a few practices due to this feedback.” (Her blog is at https://bit.ly/38U1qVC.)
A new national study, published this month, describes how 13 states “have chosen to gauge school climate and student engagement through annual surveys of students, teachers and parents.” This includes our neighbors Iowa and North Dakota. “Walking a Fine Line,” by Phyllis Jordan and Laura Hamilton of FutureEd, a research group at Georgetown University, includes recommendations about how states and schools can do this. (The report is found at https://bit.ly/2s3Age3.)
Educators can’t always follow family and student advice. Sometimes their suggestions are contradictory. Sometimes there isn’t time or money to do what others propose. But it is valuable to listen and try to use recommendations.
Since I’m suggesting educators ask for feedback, it’s appropriate for me to make a similar request. Would you please take a few minutes to give me feedback, looking back and ahead? What were the most useful columns I wrote this year? Why? Which, if any, columns frustrated you? What topics would you like to see discussed in 2020?
My email address is below. I won’t be able to do everything readers suggest. But I plan to do some of what’s recommended.
Thanks for considering the value of feedback, and thanks for reading this column. Happy holidays.
Joe Nathan, formerly was a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president. He directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org.