What We Can Do to Make Our Schools Work- Part 2
What Can We Do To Make Our Schools Work? – Start Small – Part 2
Public education is huge. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Considering K-12 education alone, here are some recent facts from the U.S. Dept of Education.
- 55+ million students including
- 15+ million special needs students taught in
- 132,656 schools in
- 14,000 school districts by
- 3,800,000+ teachers at an average salary of
- $55,000 as part of a
- 70 billion dollar budget (2013).
Such a colossus cannot be easily manoeuvred in any realistic way as a single entity. To have any hope of effecting change, it must be approached on a much smaller scale, with a specific target in mind, most likely a single target involving a single school in a single district.
The obvious target is literacy as it relates to reading and math. Literacy is essential to any real success in school and is a persistent and seemingly intractable problem as depicted in the data from numerous studies.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Tipping Point” writes about how small, seemingly innocuous changes can quickly gather momentum and result in huge effects. In my view, his model is an approach that could be adopted to improve literacy levels nation – wide. There are a number of conditions required for these initial small steps to gather the speed and power that result in dramatic change. To reach the tipping point, specific environmental conditions must exist and three types of individuals are required.
For anyone who is seriously interested in being involved in such a project, it would be extremely helpful if they had read the complete text of Gladwell’s book. I will provide snippets here that might entice you to read the original text.
Gladwell documents tipping points as an indicator of an emerging epidemic. He describes several cases in which tipping points have been created, sometimes without the actual knowledge of the participants who created them. As with all epidemics, Gladwell characterizes them as emanating from a very few people and spreading quickly to the masses.
Question: Can We Create a Literacy Tipping Point?
Gladwell notes that there three distinct types of individuals required for a tipping point to occur; connectors, mavens and salespeople.
- Connectors are a special kind of outgoing people who enjoy connecting with other individuals for the sheer joy of it. They have large groups of friends, colleagues and acquaintances and actively maintain their networks while continually adding to them. Gladwell’s book includes a “Connector Test to determine if you might be such a person.
- Mavens are highly informed individuals about specific topics that they love dearly enough to study continually, from coffee prices to cars and everything in between, Mavens need no test. Their wealth of information speaks for itself. Gladwell calls them “information brokers”. They love to advise and teach and they actively share information freely and in whatever depth required. They do not however attempt to direct or influence the recipient of their information in making their decisions. Mavens are the independent, neutral experts in their particular area(s) of knowledge. You probably already know a couple of mavens.
- Salesmen are the people who get others to join the initiative. They infect large numbers of people and bring them to the cause.
To launch such a project in one or more places, there are a number of requirements, such as the necessary environmental conditions, one or more connector, a maven or two, some salespeople, and a result that can be repeated so that the effect lasts.
The context of what it means to be a teacher also needs to be considered. The context will shift to the notion that reading is not the special domain of schools and the education industry, that in fact it can be done by almost anyone. If you cna read you can teach someone else to read
. I will describe the requirements more fully in the next blog and provide a case study to show how such a project can be done.