Who is the Primary Audience in Educational Reform?




A majority of articles, presentations,  panels, academic journals texts and media  are focusing on educator effectiveness, student growth and  change from a perspective of “systemic school reform.” Over the past few months as I have visited schools, taught classes, listened to the feelings and thoughts of new teachers and assessed their projects papers, and observations…  questions and thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. Ones we, as a community, need to address discuss and reflect upon as we embrace the chaos that feels to be penetrating our educational conundrum.      


 Should we not be focusing equally on families, as well as educators when we explore and define educational reform? I believe there are two primary audiences, educators and families. If we are to truly have lasting and positive change… it feels there will need to be an interpersonal integration of one another- families and educators.   As teachers and school leaders we must begin to recognize and become deeply aware of the internal mind of a child and a parent who is oppositional, defiant, inattentive or failing classes.  What does this look like? It begins with questions which draw out the needs and desires of one another.  

 Every person in the world is motivated to be or do something!  Maybe one is motivated to NOT go to work, or to lay one’s head down during an entire class, arguing a point, not showering, etc.  What is the motivation and how do we instill motivation towards a healthy goal?  

What is the major difference between a consistently highly effective school and a consistently poorly performing school? I believe the answer lies somewhere inside the nebulous concept of “resources, “not simply monetary, familial support or effective educators and leaders, but resources that integrate an understanding of cultural motivations and differences.  Are we engaging the population of impoverished minority single parents in the ways they will feel “felt,” inspired, empowered and respected?    


In high performing schools, parents are generally involved and teachers are motivated; because whether we say it or not, there feels to be a supportive atmosphere of respect, responsibility and shared values. It is difficult to say the least for educators to create this environment on their own! We can have the best of intentions, closing achievement gaps, opening charter schools, and raising the bar on teacher effectiveness and student growth models but there is still frustration and unspoken tones of dismal apathy? Why? We have not taken the time to truly and deeply understand what motivates cultural diversity! 


I am ready to survey the needs of and hear the stories of single, poor and minority mothers and parents who appreciate education as an abstract concept, but are unable to prioritize high school graduation, followed by a four year degree because truthfully, the matters of their heart s and minds are about survival, immediate problem solving, and securing stability and safety… When will we as a culture begin to understand that it takes time, profound empathy and an integration of honoring the differences in one another and communicating in kind and compassionate ways?   All we need is one positive experience, moment or relationship to get the ball rolling! When we look at the impoverished and low performing schools, we see these school and neighborhood cultures laden with either rigidity or chaos.  When we model  broadened perspectives, optimism and deeply listen, focusing our attention on the unspoken word while developing relationships, even with one family  or vulnerable student each year… we have energized and engendered  a struggling  system,  breathing a bit of  life into what is possible when we listen and respond to learn!   


Yes, a small school is with a cohesive community is ideal, but Brea Thomas from Pike High School, who has a class list of 190 students, cultivates this nurturing and empathic environment with her students and families every day.  She still is held content accountable and assesses her students daily, but there is a relationship and service undercurrent to the ways she listens and empathizes, encouraging student, parent and teacher community! She is grateful if only one student and family respond to her questions and desires, reciprocating the innate equity that belongs to each of us, never giving up on the possibilities. Brea was named Teacher of the Year at Pike High School in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.  


I no more can personally connect to a single mom working two and a half jobs, taking care of her family, and wondering if the electricity will be turned off than she can to my life experiences.  Neither of us is right or wrong in our misunderstood perceptions   Do we ask about an individual’s story?  What do you need?   How can we help your child to feel “understood, capable and successful”? What can I do?  What are two ways this school and me, as your child’s teacher or school leader can support you and your family this  year?   Many parents encountered negative school experiences and what looks like anger, apathy, arrogance and control is more often than not …fear.    


Maybe our Indiana Department of Education forms a new advisory committee made up of students, parents and educators from a targeted lower performing school. In these monthly gatherings, maybe all children and adults begin to brainstorm and create lists of needs and options.  Maybe we provide childcare while parents and families come for meals twice a week, taking continuing education classes, attend AA / NA meetings, meditation workshops, or just share and listen to one another’s story.  Research reports that just talking about an experience, can ease and relieve the tension and stress, heightening the probability of novel ways for attempting a difficult challenge.   


Maybe we never reach the parents…. but the students begin to  “feel felt” by a teacher, who provided the space and words that subtly stated, “You are enough!”





3 Responses to “Who is the Primary Audience in Educational Reform?

  • Amy, I just now saw your incredible response… and I am so sorry I have not responded.. I could not agree with you more and I love and admire your thinking… please e-mail me anytime with thoughts or questions!

    Thank you


  • Amanda Purter
    11 years ago

    Is she still teaching at Pike? Great article.

  • Sherry Henson
    12 years ago

    Well throught out and well written! In particular, my experience of a lifetime in education agrees with the chaos or rigidity theory. So very true. One must have organizational order plus a tremendous amount of flexibility to meet the needs of today’s students and families. Nothing can be accomplished in the midst of chaos or excess rigidity.

    You are so right that a small, cohesive environment is ideal, yet the concept of serving our students, listening to them, addressing their needs in even the smallest way can also be accomplished in the largest of settings.

    When I look back over my experience is the schools I remember when I would sit down with an unhappy student or parent. I would take the time to listen and then ask them what they would like me to do? Often the solution was something very easy for me to do for them. We spend too much time in education saying “no” instead of “what can I do for you? Or ” how could we make this work better for you?”

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