Whatever it Takes

While there were kudos and complaints about the movie Waiting for Superman, Geoffrey Canada got a few things exactly right.  His philosophy of doing “whatever it takes” to help students succeed is good education. Assess, plan, implement, re-assess.

Administrators need to assure their teachers can do this for their students. Instead of burdening them with unnecessary paperwork and meetings about obscure topics, teachers need to be empowered with making decisions about how they can support students – doing whatever it takes to help their students succeed in their unique environments.

Canada also assures students he’ll stick with them all the way through the educational process.  This is tough for individual teachers, as they don’t work with children year after year, and it’s the place where schools most often fail children as they grow older and subjects are compartmentalized.  Elementary teachers teach students.  High school teachers teach subjects. They can stop seeing the person in the seat because they’re not with them long enough.  We see the results in falling test scores as students reach upper grades. Schools need to stick with their kids.

Someone might say, “What is the job of the student here? Shouldn’t these kids be inner-motivated?”

Sure.  In a perfect world, we all should be. We should do our jobs because we love our work and shouldn’t need rewards for a job well done — not even a pat on the back.  But how many people do you know (other than yourself, of course) who are like that?  Our job as educators is to find a way in – to work with the attractions and distractions of our students’  lives and make it all relevant.

As educators, we’re shaping our students thinking and habits and helping prepare them for their future. One day they’ll grow into their running shoes — but for now our job is to help them get to the starting line.

Do elite trappings create success? (Causation vs. correlation)

In a recent blog Seth Godin asked:

Does a ski trip to Aspen make you a successful bond trader, or do successful bond traders go skiing in Aspen?

It’s college acceptance season, and worth considering an often overlooked question:

Do people who are on track to become successful go to elite colleges, buy elite cars, engage in other elite behaviors… (Defining elite as something both scarce and thus expensive).

Do attending these colleges or engaging in these behaviors make you successful?

It matters, because if you’re buying the elite label as a shortcut to success, you might be surprised at what you get.

There are certainly exceptions (for professions that are very focused on a credential, and for the economically disadvantaged), but generally, most elite products like college are overrated as life changers.

It turns out that merely getting into Harvard is as good as indicator of future success as actually going. It turns out that being the sort of person that can invest the effort, conquer fear and/or raise the money to capture some of the elite trappings of visible success is what drives success, not the other way around.

The learning matters a great deal, and especially the focused effort behind it. The brand name of the institution, not so much.

I agree. Whatever you are doing for your child’s education – public, private, home or away – make sure you’re giving them the best tools you can to get them the most effective education possible now. They may never go to a “Harvard,”  (or want to go there), but encouraging them to invest their effort in academics and conquer their fears is a life changer.