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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

5 Minutes Can Change the World of Education

By Guest Blogger — August 28, 2015 4 min read
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Note: Today’s blog post is writen by Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 US National Teacher of the Year in 2013 and finalist for this year’s Global Teacher Prize. You can follow him on Twitter at @JeffCharbonneau.

Earlier we called on teachers to make the transition from “Humble Servants to Confident Professionals” by changing the way that they discuss their role. Then we asked what would happen in education politics if those confident teachers would “Stop Telling Lawmakers What to Do and TEACH Them.”

Today we focus on the impact that all educators can have with their communities’ view on education as we examine how “5 Minutes Can Change the World of Education.”


It’s a bold statement.

Arrogant even.

Really? The whole world of education can be changed in as little as 5 minutes!?

For all the experts, pundits, books, blogs, and conferences that I have seen over the years, there is not one that compares to the expertise and trust of the local educator having a conversation at the grocery store.

It is there in aisle, next to the cereal, that the picture of education gets painted. It is there that the community learns about what is “really happening” in the schools during a conversation that lasts less than 5 minutes.

I have been there. In fact, every educator has. We get done at school after a 10 hour day, we are tired and ready to head home — but dinner has to be made and we’re out of milk. So we dash into the store and, of course, get stopped by a community member and get asked about school. Not the simple “how’s it going?” kind of ask, but rather the prying, digging deeper questions.

The question is — what do you say?

Do you talk about how students are doing higher level math than ever before?

Do you talk about how your high school’s English department is now offering classes for college credit?

Do you talk about how the graduation rate has been climbing not only nationwide but in your district as well?

Unfortunately, from what I see and hear, these normally don’t make the list. But it’s not because those things aren’t happening.

Instead it seems that far, far too often it is the bad news that gets shared.

Funding issues.

Overcrowding and lack of resources.

Issues with testing, curriculum, and standards.

And the list goes on.

I do not claim that these issues are not real. They are real. I live them every day as a classroom teacher.

But there is a problem with this kind of messaging.

You see the reality is that while the teaching profession as a whole certainly does not have a high level of respect, individual teachers are incredibly well respected by the parents of the children they teach.

That respect for the individual does not stop with the teacher. Most of the parents I know place a huge amount of trust and respect in any of the adults that their student interacts with at school, from the custodians and bus drivers, to the staff assistants and building secretaries. All educators actually have large amount of “education street cred” in the eyes of the community.

In short, when teachers and/or staff talk about the state of education, the community DOES listen.

So when we are in the store having that conversation and we think that we are helping by sharing the list of things we need, the things that are going wrong, we are not.

The problem with education is that all we do is talk about what is wrong with education.

And that makes things worse.

If the only message the community hears is that the schools are falling apart, then that is what the community will believe.

To be a true advocate for education, we need to take a quick lesson from the classroom:

When a student walks in our room the absolute LAST thing we do as teachers is tell them what they are doing wrong. Instead we learn about them, praise them for their strengths, and develop a relationship of trust and positive feedback so that they have the motivation, energy, and vision to improve. It works.

Let’s do that with the world of education.

Take the time to praise our colleagues’ work, to share their stories of success and triumph with our community.

Let’s give our communities the energy and the strength that they need to be able to support and help improve education, just as our students use the strength we give them to improve in the classroom.

We HAVE to start talking about what is working in education.

And we have to start doing it in the places that matter the most — the grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations.

It is there that the public perception of education is shaped.

The best part of all is that it takes less than 5 minutes to have those conversations — conversations that are already occurring between school staff and the community.

We simply have to decide to change the message.

Imagine if every teacher, custodian, coach, administrator, bus driver, and staff assistant in the nation went to the store tonight and had just one conversation in the checkout line that focused only on the great things that are happening in their school.

We could change the world of education in 5 minutes.

It’s time that we choose to be the same positive influence on the profession that we are on the students we teach.

So here it is — your new assignment, your “teacher homework":

Commit to spending 5 minutes a day lifting up the profession by talking about what is going RIGHT.

--Jeff Charbonneau

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.