3 People (Besides Teachers) Who Play a Role in Students’ Success

As someone who train educators for a living and have written books about following “the calling” to become a teacher, I do believe in the power of teachers to make an impact, both positive and negative, on their students.

But what about “superstar teachers”?  You are probably familiar with the concept, particularly since it is perpetuated in popular culture through movies like the classic Edward James Olmos film “Stand and Deliver” and 2012’s “Won’t Back Down.” The idea is that with the right teacher – a committed, bright, in-tune, talented teacher – P-12 problems like the achievement gap and high dropout rates will cease to exist. If only every student had a standout teacher like the ones portrayed in these shows, the very P-12 system as we know it would be transformed for the better.

I do think that teachers make a difference – but I cannot put all of my faith in these “superstar teachers” to reform the education system the way that is truly needed. In this article, I will focus on three other types of people who can have a serious impact on the success of students.

  1. Parents: Perhaps the most obvious influencers of all, parental involvement can have positive impact on the students’ ability to learn. While the clearest benefit of parental involvement is more time spent on academic learning, there are other benefits too. Some of them include parents better understanding where their children may struggle (and not just hearing it secondhand at a teacher conference) and better attendance and participation for kids who follow the enthusiasm and good example of their parents.

Unfortunately, in this day and age it is difficult to get parents involved. A study done by Stanford University found that the number of U.S. households with two working parents nearly doubled from 25 percent in 1968 to 48 percent in 2008, and that doesn’t even factor in parents who have part-time jobs, health issues or other children that vie for their time. This leaves parents with less time to be involved in their children’s activities.

  1. Principals: Increased attention at both the local and national levels on improving student learning has resulted in a growing expectation in some states and districts for principals to be effective instructional leaders. Consider these statistics: nearly 7,000 students drop out of U.S. high schools every day and, every year approximately 1.2 million teenagers leave the public school system without a diploma or an adequate education. There are 2,000 high schools in America in which less than 60% of students graduate within four years after entering ninth grade.

The situation is not much brighter for students who do earn a high school diploma, and enter two –year or four-year institutions. In community colleges, approximately 40% of freshmen (and approximately 20% in public, four-year institutions) are in need of basic instruction in reading, writing, or mathematics before they can perform in college-level courses. It is vital that principals advocate for these students and provide leadership to reverse this appalling educational outcome.

Here are some issues principals can help with: aligning instruction with a standards-based curriculum to provide a good measure of achievement and effectively organizing resources. Principals must use sound hiring practices, ensure professional development is available at their schools, and keep abreast of issues that may influence the quality of teaching in schools.

Principals do face some obstacles though, and that includes having relatively little ownership of their problems or the proposed solutions to them. The district (or state) defines the existing instructional issues in their schools, which often leaves some principals feeling powerless to make changes.

Often, many principals spend much of their time finding ways to work around the district office, rather than with them. To obtain the support they need, they often decide to avoid hiring protocols and develop “underground” relationships with individual staff in the district office.

All that aside, when a principal has the support of district leaders, principals can actually focus on supporting the teachers in their school.

  1. School counselors: Consider this: one in five American high schools do not have any school counselors. And to First Lady Michelle Obama, that needs to change.

The First Lady addressed 2,000 attendees at the American School Counselor Association in 2014, and spoke of the role counselors play in encouraging further education.

She said that, “The national average is one school counselor for 471 students.”

Obama highlights that school counselors are key to her “Reach Higher” program. This initiative encourages children to continue education after high school graduation, whether at a professional training program, a community college or a four-year college or university.

Evidently, parents, principals, and counselors are not the only people who play a role in how our educational system runs. However, by focusing on just these three kinds of people who can help, I hope I have been able to demonstrate that teachers are not the only ones responsible for the success of students.

Can you think of other people (or entities) who play an important role in P-12 education?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

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