Jeff Piontek is an author, keynote speaker and teacher. He has worked with many at-risk school districts nationally as a consultant on affecting educational change and reform. He spoke in Denver Jan. 20 as part of the Hot Lunch speaker series.
We live in a time of extraordinary, exponential, and disruptive change. Society as we know it is being disrupted by the force of new technologies, the forces of revolution, the undermining power of commoditization and the displacing power of disintermediation. Economic upheavals are not only coming with greater regularity, they are deeper and they last longer.
All in all, it is disruptive change of the first order with the promise of more to come. Do not stand by and wait for the gold watch. It is scary yet so empowering for those who will embrace the change. You are the sharp end of the spear; you are on the front lines of change. Being anything less is the fast track to irrelevance.
To avoid being irrelevant, you have to grow – and fast! The belief that what you did in the past will be enough to allow you to succeed now is the most dangerous belief to have. It isn’t going to be enough. It’s time to grow, or else. You have to try on new beliefs and replace your old limiting beliefs. Clinging to the past won’t help you. Let go. Unlearn your learned helplessness.
You are going to have to develop greater leadership, management, and change management skill sets. You are also going to have to believe that your current future depends on your adaptability, as Charles Darwin stated so eloquently
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Therefore, your resourcefulness, your resiliency, and your ability to adopt new beliefs and new skill sets will ultimately decide your fate.
The issues of inadequacy in our education system are affecting the youth of America. We need reform now!
Although those two words seem logical and simplistic, in reality, it’s not happening. We need a reform plan where the focus is on preparing our students for the future, preparing our school leaders for the future and preparing OUR education system to be the best in the world.
We need to prepare our students to graduate from our schools equipped to take on the challenges of college, work and life; preparing our leaders to take their schools and students into the 21st century and preparing our students to be competitive in the workforce in the global economy and a flattening world.
This is our opportunity and our promise to all people across this great country. This is the moral responsibility of every adult in the education system. We have no time to lose.
Children’s needs must come first
Children’s needs come first. We need to place children ahead of the special interest politics and bureaucratic inertia that too often drive decisions and get in the way of quality learning. We need to spend the next few years creating nationwide coherence and stability in our systems. The nation is in the process of setting new academic standards; we need to build a new, streamlined management structure and look at how we train, retain and develop our principals; make every school engaged parents who are partners in their child’s education, because this cannot be done alone, and most importantly begin holding “everyone and I mean everyone” in the system accountable for results.
Once we create stability and coherence, we need to take the logical next steps by focusing on the three areas that are most likely to produce the bold improvements our system needs and our children deserve: Leadership, empowerment, and accountability. Recognizing that a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach couldn’t possibly give all children the best education, we need to deliberately set out to find the best and brightest educators to lead our schools (leadership). We will then give them and their teachers the tools to do their jobs well (empowerment) and we will make them responsible for the success or failure of their students (accountability).
Why are you responsible? Your involvement and commitment is crucial to change the culture of the education system nationally. From a culture of excuses, where educators too often blame students and their families for low performance, to a culture of accountability, where adults take responsibility for ensuring that all children, regardless of their circumstances, learn and achieve. From a culture of compliance, where educators waste too much time doing paperwork and following one-size-fits-all directions from administrators, to a culture of achievement, where the central focus is on results and doing whatever it takes to help each student learn. From a culture of top-down bureaucracy, to a culture of individual great schools, where principals and their teams design the programs that their particular students need to succeed.
This seems like a simple mantra, “Put the children first.” Yet big businesses, politics and special interest groups see this as an opportunity to USE the children.
The time is now to make these changes for our children, our education systems and our nation. Our children’s future and our country are at stake. The time is now!