6 Ways Teachers Can Improve Education Right Now

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Enough with the negative education rhetoric. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to complaining about the establishment and blaming policymakers for bad ideas about how to improve education. It’s time to stop complaining. It’s time to make a difference.

These 6 ways to improve education should help.

1-Think help before you think teach

I used to wake each morning thinking, What can I teach today? It was my way of planning to make a difference, but it turned out to be a pretty big waste of time. Many years into my teaching career, I learned that I could dramatically improve education in my classroom if I stopped thinking What can I teach and started thinking, How can I help? Students need help in many ways that aren’t academic. If a child enters your classroom hungry, or frightened, or angry, the last thing she needs is a worksheet. You’ll make her world so much better if you just offer a loving smile and say, “How can I help?”

2-Forget about The Test

If you enter your classroom or school wondering how you’ll prepare students for The Test, you may do more harm than good. While senior administrators may rave about test scores, our children care more about basic needs. They need safety, nutrition, friendship and love. Give them these, and their curiosity will begin to grow. When their bellies are full and they feel loved, they’ll begin caring about learning, and the test will take care of itself. 

If you want to see amazement and excitement in your classroom, tell your students to put away their workbooks and sit with two or three friends; then say, “Today, learning is going to be messy.”

3-Embrace reading

It doesn’t matter if you teach math or physical education. If you want to improve education today in your classroom, your school and in your district, read daily and encourage your students to read. Make reading fun, and you’ll bring joy to children. There’s no better teacher in the world than a book, and many of your students may not have them. Greet your students with a hearty, “Today, we’re going to read anything you want,” and watch them smile.

 4-Make learning messy

In my book, Role Reversal, I talk about controlled chaos. For far too long, I was afraid of chaos; I believed that a chaotic classroom was a sign that I’d lost control. Then I learned that control stifles learning, and I invited my students to move, to talk, to laugh and even, in some cases, to shout. Adults don’t want to sit still and remain silent for long periods of time and neither do students. You can improve education today and create a powerful learning environment with collaboration, inquiry and hands-on learning. If you want to see amazement and excitement in your classroom, tell your students to put away their workbooks and sit with two or three friends; then say, “Today, learning is going to be messy.” I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that moment.

5-Inspire global learning

Today’s students are digital learners. They are, in fact, iStudents, who come to school equipped to access the billions of teachers and resources that they hold in the palms of their  hands. Regardless of any policy your school has about electronic devices, tell your students to bring them to class. Even if it is against some strange school or district rule. Tell them to keep it on the “down low” (did I say that right?); they’ll love this, and they’ll think you’re cool. Then, use a wonderful site like Today’s Meet or Twitter to engage in a fabulous conversation about learning. Another option is to Skype with an expert or another class in another country. Help your students become global learners, and you will improve education immediately and change their lives.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.Martin Luther King Jr.

6-Be a change agent

We are very accomplished at complaining about the problems with education. As MLK suggests in the above quote, making noise is important. If, however, we really want to improve education, we must stop submitting to the bureaucracy and to curriculum guides and to parent demands. You know how to improve education immediately. You know what is best for your students. So, stop complaining and become a change agent. Lead by example. Show your colleagues that you intend to do what’s best for kids every single day, and you refuse to allow standards, accountability measures or The Test to interfere. Not only will you improve education and change lives, you’ll feel better about yourself because you’ll know that you’re making a difference.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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