As a parent, would you rather help your child decide what s/he needs in school or have the government tell you what your child needs? Some years ago, when I was principal of the Hill Field Elementary School in Clearfield, the teachers decided to interview each child's parents at the beginning of each school year to learn of their needs for their children. After a week or two of school, (Teachers wanted at least a week to get to know the children before the interviews) parents were asked to come ready to answer three questions:
What would you like the school to help you accomplish for your child this year?
What are this child's special gifts, talents, interests and needs that we should keep in mind?
How can we work together to accomplish your goals?
Parents were surprised to be asked these questions. The state had always done this thinking for them. Some parents had difficulty answering the questions, so we developed a priority survey for them to fill out. The teacher-parent interviews became so popular that teachers in a neighboring school wanted to do them also.
After several years of compiling the data from the priority surveys in two schools, a pattern began to emerge. Nearly all parents listed at least two of the following three things as their top priorities. First, they wanted the school to help children grow in a strong sense of self-worth that would come from a focus on developing each child's assets, the things they already knew and were good at, their unique talents and gifts. Second, parents wanted their children to "fall in love with learning." They wanted children to be curious and self-motivated to learn. Third, parents wanted students to learn "how to get along with others." They wanted children to learn how to form positive relationships and communicate effectively. These priorities were later labeled as Identity, Inquiry and Interaction to help teachers, parents and students maintain them at the front of their minds as top priorities.
How significant were these parent-teacher interviews? What happened as a result of the interviews was so significant that I retired early to write about and promote a different vision that we called, "Educating for Human Greatness." This vision is characterized by the following things:
Teachers and parents form a new kind of relationship. They join hands in a partnership to help students grow in "Identity, Inquiry and Interaction." The interviews resulted in many parents and teachers developing life-long friendships.
Teachers stopped teaching reading, writing, arithmetic and other subjects as ends in and of themselves, but as tools, or a means of helping students grow in Identity, Inquiry and Interaction. The first priority, Identity, calls for teachers to stop trying to standardize students, but to help students develop as unique individuals. Some teachers became experts at capitalizing on curious inquiry as a better way to help students learn how to read. The arts, music and many other subjects were used to develop student Imagination, Inquiry and the other dimensions of greatness.
The parent-teacher partnerships resulted in the invention of several strategies to help students grow in the three dimensions of human greatness: Talent shows to develop Identity, the "Great brain Project" to help students grow in the power to ask good questions (Inquiry), and the "School Post Office" to help students grow in the power of written Interaction.
The "Great Brain Project" became a very powerful vehicle for building parent and teacher unity and friendship. The parent becomes the child's research partner to help the child become a "specialist," "expert," "mastermind" or "genius" in a topic the child wants to study in depth. Student self-chosen home study replaces teacher-assigned home work. At the end of each child's project, s/he prepares an elaborate presentation for classmates and invited guests. The student's photo is placed in the "Great Brain Hall of Fame."
After the first interviews at the beginning of the year, the teacher, parent(s) and the student have several assessment meetings to discuss progress and growth with this ultimate main goal: To help each student discover his or her purpose for existing - to use ones unique talents to be a special contributor to society.
The Educating for Greatness vision changes many things. All participants recognize the value of building student differences, helping each child grow in the things s/he was born to be good at, rather than building student uniformity in knowledge and skills. Parents and teachers share accountability in helping students grow in what later became seven dimensions of greatness: Identity, Inquiry, Interaction, Initiative, Imagination, Intuition and Integrity. When school subjects are taught for the purpose of developing these things, they are learned in a deeper, longer-lasting way, not merely to pass tests and then forget.
At the beginning of this school year, I encourage Utah school districts to give teachers a day to hold interviews with parents to learn what they want for their children. If you do it, you will find that a bond of unity develops as teachers, parents and students regain enthusiasm for learning and joy in a different kind of education - Education for Human Greatness. If teachers ask parents to consider student priorities for education, it could be "the start of something big."
Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is founder of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance. He can be emailed at email@example.com. He lives in Farmington.