Often when I let my students work in groups, I remind them of a favorite proverb of mine: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
They usually roll their eyes when I say that, but it’s true. Working alone can be efficient at times, but if we really want to push ourselves to learn new skills and reach lofty goals, there’s a lot of value we can gain from working with others whose knowledge and expertise are different than our own. The cool thing is that it works the same way when it comes to making tough choices in education.
Whether it’s effectively leading a classroom, managing a school’s daily operations, or crafting new policy ideas, the decision-making process can get messy pretty quickly because, let’s face it, education is a tough field. But even though it would be more efficient for decision-makers and administrators to just call the shots themselves doesn’t mean it’s better for students. If we want to go further to help our students succeed, we’ll need to go together—teachers, parents, students and community members alike. And for that, we’re going to need more seats at the table.
Bringing Teachers to the Table
Teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for students’ success, but since they interact with students on a day to day basis, they obviously have more skin in the game than most. With that knowledge, it should make practical sense for teachers’ voices to be heard in the decision-making process, whether that’s at the school, district, state or even national level.
We sometimes use the phrase “teacher leaders” do describe these educators who are involved in decision-making processes at these levels. The work that they do is phenomenal for helping policymakers, researchers, administrators and other stakeholders in education understand what it’s like to see things from a teacher’s point of view. We sometimes miss that perspective when new policies need crafting, so it’s not surprising that teacher leadership has become a more popular topic in recent years.
But not only does having a formal role in decision-making help teachers, it helps students too: Studies suggest that students perform better on state tests when they have teachers who lead.
Bringing Parents to the Table
No one knows a child like his or her parents, and that knowledge is vital as schools try to grow students to be responsible citizens. This really can’t happen, though, unless parents are plugged in with the school and feel that they have a role to play in making decisions and helping administrators and teachers see their role from a different perspective.
This happens in a couple of ways. Parents can obviously get plugged in with organizations like school parent/teacher organizations and site-based decision making councils (SBDMs), in which parents play key roles in helping administrators and other members make student-centered decisions.
They can also volunteer throughout the school day, as tons of programs and services that schools provide need additional support. In some states, parents have served as mentors to provide the additional support that students may need as they transition between grades or schools, or even to just help students make it through the tough days.
Bringing Students to the Table
Student voice is another important but underlooked factor that we need to consider. Every student enters the classroom with his or her own background knowledge and expertise, and it’s crucial to tap into that.
Can you imagine how empowering it must feel for kids to know that their opinions will be taken seriously by their schools? With a seat at the table, teachers and administrators can gain new knowledge about what’s working—and what’s not working—in their classrooms and offices.
It’s more important than ever to let students sometimes take the reins for their own learning. Incorporating students into the decision-making process increases their motivation and engagement, and we definitely can afford to make room for that.
Bringing Communities to the Table
We can’t forget about the important role that communities play in shaping education. After all, isn’t the purpose of education to grow and train young men and women to be responsible citizens of their own? Community involvement is really crucial in this regard, because it gives educators and administrators a better understanding of the types of knowledge and skills that students will need to be successful later on.
This would naturally look different in different settings. In high schools, for example, community partners get involved with local schools by providing internship and work training experiences. States like Kentucky are already implementing programs and classes to help communities become work-ready by enhancing students’ training and skills, and career readiness is becoming a pretty big component of accountability systems, too.
But even further, bringing community members on board should help remind us that education doesn’t really happen in a vacuum: The knowledge and skills that students learn in class are valuable because they can be used to benefit their communities.
We have an amazing opportunity as educators to prepare our students for success in the real world, the world that keeps spinning beyond our classroom doors. For all of us who want to see bigger growth in students’ learning, we can start by building bigger tables. Who else should be invited?