When initiating reform, an action plan must be developed before the school can determine how the reform will be carried out and how it will be measured. Too often, administrators become anxious and feel the need to change the reform before any data has been collected. More patience is warranted because if a plan is not working, it can be amended. The school team, which consists of educators, administrators, and other stakeholders, must make the necessary amendments without hindering reform efforts. Creating too many changes within one reform plan would be counterproductive and frustrating for all parties involved.
Many new administrators enter the field hell-bent on making a name for themselves and refusing to live in the shadows of their predecessor. Often, they feel as though their only choice is to go in a totally different direction, making the previous reform null and void. This situation creates frustration among the surviving faculty and staff. New administrators often make changes before they fully think about the consequences or repercussions of their actions. Perfectly competent adults massage their egos instead of thinking about what is in the best interests of the school and the children.
It is counterproductive to start one reform and then decide to start another several months later. Once a reform has been implemented, all parties involved must show fidelity to it until there is concrete data or evidence that indicates that it is ineffective. Reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and we as their teachers assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens.
It is hard for many administrators and educators to grasp the fact that frustrations may worsen as the reform is being implemented. Often, issues arise because people do not welcome change. Some educators need to see that change is for the better before they completely support the reform. Once the rebellion to change has subsided and the reform has been implemented correctly, the waiting game begins. During this time, educators and administrators must go about the business of collecting data for analysis. The findings will give them a clear indication of whether or not the reform has served its intended purpose. If students are not progressing under the implemented reform, then it may not be fulfilling the needs of the students or faculty.
Strategic planning and the implementation of school reform sometimes require schools to absorb temporary setbacks in order to reap the benefits of long-term gains. Student progress might dip for a month or two before teachers and administrators see a significant gain in student learning and performance. Teachers and administrators need to allow change to take place and not panic when instant changes are not apparent. In many school reform efforts, educators and administrators must understand that policies and practices that met the needs of the past, do not necessarily address current needs or the needs of the future. They must realize that in order to obtain a great future you must let go of a great past.
Some administrators fall into the trap of emulating model schools. Model schools can be found in every major city, but when trying to recreate their success, many schools fail to achieve the same results. Trying to recreate another school’s success is potentially dangerous, even when schools share similar characteristics. This is because, regardless of the similarities, every district is unique. Often, after a large amount of time, energy, and money has been spent, the school declares the plan a failure and has nothing to show for the efforts.
Strategic planning, which is widely used in the educational arena, can assist districts in setting goals and implementing school reform. You would be hard pressed to find a school district that does not have one or more strategic plans awaiting execution. Strategic plans are a district’s consistent road map, even in the face of adversity. In the end, a strategic plan that reflects the culture and needs of each individual school is a better route than attempts to replicate the success another school.
In part I, we discussed and analyzed four inspirational movies about transcendent educators. In part II, we will discuss three additional movies and end with a brief summary and discussion. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Lean on Me is not really about a teacher per se, but about a principal, Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman), who comes to save a school about to be taken over by the state. It is run down and full of rebellious and even criminal-minded young people. Joe Clark, the principal with the baseball bat, quickly tries to run the school like some angry but well-meaning despot. At first his teachers are against his methods (and critics of the movie made the same mistake), but as both students and teachers warm up to him, it’s clear that what he is doing is really working.
He does, however, have his enemies; particularly one member of the School Board, who is trying to get him fired. When he is caught chaining the school doors against the fire department’s regulation, he is put in jail, and the School Board convenes a special session to decide if he should be fired. But the students show up in front of the jail en masse and demand his release, which is eventually granted. Immediately after his release, he receives good news; the entire student body has passed the test administered by the state. Here too, we are dealing with a dedicated educator who breaks the rules and succeeds precisely for that reason.
This may begin to sound like a litany, but Dangerous Minds is yet another story (based on a true story) involving the dedication of a teacher. Here Michelle Pfeiffer plays the real-life LouAnne Johnson, whose story the movie is based on. LouAnne Johnson, an ex-Marine, is hired on the spot without really being informed of the kind of class she is to teach. At first she almost gives up in frustration, but then she decides not to. Once she has made up in her mind that she is going to win over the students, the “battle” begins. Needless to say, once more, we have a movie about a teacher who breaks as many rules as it takes. In the end, the class is completely won over. In fact, they not only start learning and enjoying it, but they have also come to love and respect their teacher along the way.
Freedom Writers is based on another true story. Here Hilary Swank the real-life Erin Gruwell. Her dedication also leads to a compassionate understanding of her underprivileged students, and she achieves the ultimate breakthrough when she informs them that they aren’t the first young people besieged by problems. Although she is not permitted to use The Diary of Ann Frank, she does precisely that, at her own expense. She also buys notebooks for her students and encourages them to keep diaries that she would only read if they permitted her to do so. Needless to say, breaking all the rules once more allows a teacher to become an exceptional teacher whom her students come to love.
So you won’t think that I am advocating anarchy and chaos in the classroom, allow me to point out that this is far from being the case. The point all these movies make is that you can’t have a great school by making everything and everyone concerned wear the same straitjacket. Rules and regulations are fine, provided that they don’t interfere with the real business of teaching. These fictional and real-life educators got through to their students by leveling with them, by understanding where they come from, and by empathizing with their struggles.
The factor that ultimately determines how successful a student will become academically is the teacher(s) that they are assigned to. In this piece, I will discuss several movies that have explored what great teaching is all about, including great teaching in underprivileged schools. As I begin this piece, I ponder an interesting idea: what if all teachers in the America were “required” to watch and thoroughly discuss the following movies? I will list them in chronological order: To Sir, with Love (1967); Up the Down Staircase (1967); Teachers (1984); Dead Poets Society (1989); Lean on Me (1989); Dangerous Minds (1995); Freedom Writers (2007). With one exception, all these movies deal with rebellious and underprivileged youth in urban schools and economically depressed family backgrounds.
What they all have in common are teachers who rise to the occasion and whose methods are unorthodox. They are all unconventional in their methods, but they are all – or become – dedicated and compassionate and completely concerned with the welfare their students – as opposed to principals or fellow teachers or even school boards.
In To Sir, with Love, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier), an engineer by trade, comes to teach a class in the East End of London, full of obnoxious and unruly and underprivileged white students. He wins them over once he abandons the posture of the “typical” teacher and begins to level with them. He teaches them that to have respect for others; they first have to learn to respect themselves. In the end, what was to be a temporary job, becomes his vocation. Everything we see in this movie is worthy of emulation by all teachers everywhere.
In Up the Down Staircase,a young idealistic woman, Sylvia Barrett (Sandy Dennis) starts teaching in another “problem” school in an urban setting, a rough neighborhood. At first she is naïve and her students laugh at her. But slowly she begins to think about what kind of “kids” her students are, and begins to see them not as enemies, but as young people who need her help to get out of the cycle they are in. Eventually she breaks through to them, not so much by breaking the rules, but by compassion and understanding. Once again, it’s the quality of the teacher that makes the difference and her dedication to her profession (which, once more, becomes more like a vocation).
In Teachers we have yet another underprivileged school in a tough neighborhood. Here the hero (Alex Jurel) is played by Nick Nolte, but the most interesting and memorable feature of this movie involves another character (Herbert Gower) played by Richard Mulligan. When the mental institution tours the school, he detaches himself from the inmates and takes over a history class. His first act as authority figure in the classroom is to pick up the textbook, look at it, frown, and walk to the window and toss it out, to the surprise and delight of the entire class. By the time he is found out and taken back to the mental institution, he has managed to transform the whole idea of teaching history. As he is led by attendants from the mental institution through the crowded corridor of the school, the teacher played by Nick Nolte salutes him in an obvious sign of respect. Perhaps all good teachers should be a little crazy? Not a bad idea.
Dead Poets Society is the exception to the rule, but only in that here we are not in an inner-city school, but in a privileged private school for boys. John Keating (Robin Williams), an alumnus of Welton Academy in Vermont, comes back to his alma mater as an English teacher. His first act of business is to invoke the carpe diem theme and thereby to encourage his students to live in the present and to love poetry. His asking them to tear out the introductory pages from the textbook is another brilliant move. He calls that kind of “literary” claptrap “excrement.”
Here is another brilliant teacher who breaks the rules, and that’s really the secret of his success. In the end, he is betrayed – both by the administration and one of his own students. He is made the scapegoat for the suicide of a student whose egomaniacal and rigid father drove him to it, but Keating’s teaching ends up being blamed for it. The real tragedy of this story is that a clearly brilliant and unconventional teacher is booted out for all the wrong reasons. When after his departure things get back to “normal,” things also get back to what is hollow and insipid.
Well, that’s the end of part I. In part II, we will end the series by discussing and analyzing three additional movies. Feel free to comment and offer movie suggestions for part II.
In advanced liberal democracies, interest groups are a standard feature. As the term suggests, interest groups organize themselves in order to attract attention to their interests and influence political institutions accordingly. At any given point of time, there are numerous interests groups, with membership ranging from a handful to many millions. Interest groups in a liberal democracy are very important and are probably one of the most effective ways of influencing political institutions.
Representative governments are built on the notion that a significant amount of voters will not be concerned with policymaking, and their only real involvement in the political process is via elections. Hence, interest groups organize research and create position statements and present their case to politicians. Politicians in turn would be inclined to listen to interests groups for the sake of the votes at stake.
Interest groups have been known to thrust wide-ranging and important legislation into the spotlight, and influence government policies both internally and externally. However, interest groups can also be used to influence political institutions to enact legislation that could be mostly unpopular. Therefore, well-financed interest groups with strong political connections can significantly distort the democratic process.
There is a sharp inequality with regards to access to interest groups. As a result of this, governments prioritize their activities and pay attention to politically active interest groups. This in turn gives interest groups an unfair advantage with regards to political influence.
Another problem closely associated with unequal access to interest groups is the unequal power certain interest groups have over governments. The combination of liberal democracy and free market capitalism is an important source of such inequality. Businesses have a strong influence over governments because they are necessary for promoting growth and investment and provide significant tax revenues. Thus, interest groups headed by businesses and other commercial entities gain more attention from the government and the electorate alike.
This in turn, forces governments to extensively consult various economic indicators before enacting virtually any kind of legislation and usually means that they will not be able to pass legislation that would hurt business interests in a variety of areas. The dangers of this unequal power over the government is significant both in regards to internal and external policies. This allows the financial elite to dictate policies that will have a significant impact on or even go against the interests of the majority. Interest groups in general are a vital component of any vibrant democracy but unless they are properly regulated, in certain circumstances interests groups can do more harm than good.