I am one of the lucky teachers who gets the chance to work with students for four straight years while they are in high school. When young journalism or graphics/design students enter my classroom as freshmen, I know that I can establish a 4-year plan toward independence, autonomy, and confidence in the work they produce, and the effort they put into it. By the time they leave my class, I want them to feel empowered to achieve any goal they wish to pursue.
That’s why I am one of the lucky ones. Some of my colleagues at other schools don’t get the support that I receive from my administration and school community. For them, their programs are filled with one-hit wonders in their junior or senior years, and most of these kids are already doing great things in other areas of their lives — sports, academics, and clubs and other organizations. To them, working on the newspaper or yearbook is a “fun” and challenging activity. For many, it is a high school bucket-list item to be crossed off before graduating and moving on to college.
My editors, writers, photographers, and designers are a little different. They live and breathe the work they do. For many, it is their varsity sport. When they graduate, many of them are being accepted into prestigious programs and interning at national publications, simply because they have the confidence and the skills to succeed, right out of high school.
Any initiative that is put in place to improve our schools — whether that is regarding safety, academics, overall performance, or wellness, must be given the same kind of chance to shift the thinking in the culture of the school and create an environment of success, leadership, and mentorship. Short-sighted programs, or 1-2-year initiatives, simply don’t have the time to be effective and change the culture of the school from one of defeat to one of independence and self-confidence.
Unfortunately, many of our programs are data-driven, where year-end statistics are published in local and regional papers, pinning school systems against others in some kind of race to the top.
Who can get there first, in the shortest amount of time possible?
We then celebrate our results, pat ourselves on the backs, and marvel in our accomplishments.
It reminds me of our professional sports teams who “buy” the best players for a year or two to win a championship. Although a typical sports team, such as baseball, has 25 players on its squad, a mere handful are the ones who get the highest scores. Then, after the goal is accomplished and the trophy is hoisted in to the air, the team disintegrates in the seasons that follow. The big-name players move on (or graduate, in the sense of education), and the team is left with players (students) where little investment was ever made.
If education reform is really going to work, we need programs and projects that create a total shift in the school’s culture, where empowerment, self-confidence, and success are the main focus from the very beginning. We cannot be so data-driven that we “give the ball” to the few individuals who are really going to make us look great and get us to the top faster than any other school system.
If you invest in all children and empower each and every one of them with the opportunity to understand and experience independence and self-confidence, you will get your rewards in good time.
And the great news? Those rewards will be available year after year to all children in that system.
Take the time and find the projects that are the “best fit” for your school and your children, then take the time to implement them fully and allow them to work beyond the 3-, 4-, or 5-year cycle of your school. Put trust in them, and in your children.
It will be a great day when, honestly, all of your children are hoisting that trophy high in the air.