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The 2 Arms of TRUE School Reform

As written for DisruptED, June 2018 . . .

Last week, I spoke to a team of administrators who were asking me to carry out some staff development for their administrative retreat in Upstate NY this summer. I had a great time talking with them about their needs, but after we hung up on our conference call, I started to dig deep into what my beliefs are about what TRUE school reform and innovative education looks like: it needs to reformed from both the outside and the inside.

Arm #1: The Outside

Here is a typical school building in a typical school district located somewhere in many places across the typical United States. It has bricks so the “wolf” cannot blow it down, even though the “wolf” should. It has windows that are replaced every 20 years while the structure of the building remains the same for a lifetime. Retired teachers exit these brick building classrooms and new teachers assume their duties in these same classrooms. The same wooden floors. The same bulletin boards. The same dry erase board erasers—if they are lucky to have moved beyond chalk board dust. So, what is the problem? We went to these types of schools and learned sentence structure and arithmetic as we grew older. The problem is this: If we say that the environment nurtures outcomes, then our schools don’t cut it. In fact, our school leaders and decision-makers do not plan for that which is “unknown” in the field of business or job security. Our brick-building-mortars are not equipped with the fidelity of teaching students and preparing them for jobs which are not even, yet, defined, let alone for jobs which are already becoming dinosaur-creature-ridden.

What to do?

School Superintendents and localized School Board Members should be thinking of ways to reach out to industry to create partnerships which will not just bulldoze our traditional schools that equate to zero learning environments for new jobs and careers that are yet to be determined, but innovate them in the real world, as it exists today, so that students have an ecosystem to create new meaning in the world of career employment that they have no clue about being a part of right this moment. If the exterior of our schools are inclusive of models mirroring warehousing, assembly-lines, engineering-based learning environments, systems-activated productivity protocols of jobs that involve sensor automation, electronics, and labs of human-health sciences, then, the old-school brick-and-mortar buildings where we learn all the same things in all the same fashion will dissolve very quickly and will, forever, be forgotten.

Arm #2: The Inside

Here is where IT happens. The guts. The gusto. The grass roots innovation where the building or school structure means nothing to them. This is where pirate-teachers create meaningful learning experiences. This is where innovation can take place with a couple of beans, a shiny copper penny, and a whole lot of teacher-design that is meant to engage students. These teachers know no boundaries. They will not wait for schools to be bulldozed. They are engagement seekers, student voice advocates, and the bunker professionals that we will always remember. These are the desks that we turn over and want to take a hacksaw to--as we cut through individualized learning and seek more collaborative forums of instruction--before we ever throw the towel in or ever give up on till’ death do us part. These are the classrooms, where, with all ingenuity, can last for a lifetime.

The “inside” can exist without the “outside” ever acknowledging itself as a primary component to overall school improvement and reform in education. The problem is that when the “inside” operates too long without the other “arm,” then we are only one-handedly optimizing education for our students and ever have a chance to prepare them for that which is already unknown to them.

--Rick Jetter, Ph.D.

Author of 6 books, National Education Consultant, and Key-Note Speaker and Trainer.

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