I’ve been thinking a lot about school reform and how we can make schools better. I’ve read the arguments from educators and politicians, and even those corporate giants who seem to know more about educating our students than teachers do. I’ve seen reports of successful schools and failing schools. As a former engineer and project manager, I do believe that business has some things that can be used in school to improve things for teachers and students. I do believe that some business practices can be beneficial to education. I’m not saying that we should treat students as products, but I have some ideas of how to use some business models in education.
I really started thinking more about this topic when I read an article about “The High School of the Future” in Philadelphia. It was started in 2006 and dubbed “The Microsoft School” because the company had helped design it. Now it seems that there are some serious problems occurring there, with seniors not eligible to graduate because the school didn’t focus on the standards and basics. There was too much emphasis on being unique and different without any real substance behind it.
This got me thinking about what would happen if some other well known companies and some companies I’ve worked for, had a hand in designing a school and it’s vision and curriculum.
I started thinking about Google and how they offer a lot of benefits to their staff. How they give their employees time to work on projects that interest them. Now, Google is not the all-perfect company, but some of their ideas are very good and make good sense. I also thought of some other companies I’ve worked for, like SVGL (now ASML) and UTC (Sikorsky Aircraft) and some of the things they did that made them successful. I’ve put together a list of ideas from these companies and how they could/should be implemented in schools.
- Open up the curriculum and time in school. Give students more chances to work on projects of their choosing. Let them explore what interests them. Give them resources and support them in their learning. More independent study projects and group projects. (Just like things happen in the real world.) For example, if a student really loves music, then let them apply that love and interest in their classes - science of music, history of music, write a song, etc. Many current curricula are too fixed and inflexible.
- Focus on the essential questions, thinking skills and essential knowledge students need to know. Some facts are important, but memorizing is not needed. Working professionals can look up information when they need to (including doctors and engineers) so why can't students use other resources? We want them to be able to communicate, work as a team, solve problems, and find resources when they need to. We don't need them to be able to recall trivial facts.
- Provide study lounges with a snack bar, computers, games and couches where students could work on their projects and have a safe place to be. Make sure these study lounges are available after school also.
- Provide students with free healthy meals and snacks. Good nutrition is paramount to success in school. Provide free or discounted meals to staff also.
- Provide services, like daycare, laundry, etc. to employees to help them be able to more focus on their jobs. Daycare could be helpful for teen mom’s and could also be used as a teaching resource for students who want to learn about early childhood development or who want to be teachers.
- Give teachers a vision and the resources they need and then let them do their job. Support them, don’t attack them. Help them when they need it. If there is training available that could help them in their job - send them for it. For example, when I was promoted to project engineer at one company, they sent me for project management training as well as supervision training since I was now supervising other employees.
- Give teachers time to work with their colleagues on solving problems, addressing student issues, working on lesson plans, and networking.
- Get rid of, or at least limit, meetings. Most companies know that work does not get done during a meeting. Schools and teachers get meetinged to death. With technology, we can collaborate in real time at our own location, limiting travel. And, most meetings are just to give out meeting - that information can be given out by email instead.
- Health clinics at schools for students and staff. Allow staff members to utilize school-based health centers as part of their benefits. Staff can get basic medical needs taken care of during the work day.
- Open the school to visitors. Have tours for parents showing them what goes on in the building. Let parents visit any time they want so that they can see what their children are doing.
- Provide after hours programs for students so that they can work in the afternoon. Give them a safe place to work and learn, even after school.
- Have the curriculum and plan be open so that students who don’t do well in the morning could come in later and work later. (Flex time in the business world).
- Tuition reimbursement for staff. Education requires teachers to get advanced degrees, yet there is no financial help from their employers. Google has tuition reimbursement and United Technologies has a scholar program that pays for school up front and even gives employees time off to study. I know that budgets are tight, but these companies realize that a highly educated workforce benefits them. The same is true for teachers. And, the better educated, and trained, teachers are, the more they can do for their students and schools.
- Provide real, timely, and useful training to staff. Too many times, teacher professional development is minimal, useless, hard to apply, or some new fad. I’ve received excellent training from my engineering employers and they paid for me to take outside training if it benefited my job. Most teachers I know have to find free training (thank goodness for unconferences) or pay for it them selves. Staff should also be given opportunities to explore their educational interests and not just the Professional Development that the school says they have to take. Choice is very important.
- Appreciate your staff - administration needs to create a fun, inspiring workplace where teachers feel welcome and appreciated for their efforts.
- Innovation - staff, and students, should be encouraged to think outside of the box when it comes to education and activities. The curriculum can not be canned, or from a textbook, it must be a living, breathing thing that can change as the world changes.
- Utilize your resources - two companies I worked for had employees fill out surveys with their hobbies, interests, and other skills they have. The company then knew who they had in-house as resources in different areas.
- Utilize Quality Improvement systems in schools. Six Sigma, ACE and other systems provide a way to find issues and solutions to those issues. They go beyond test scores and truly look at what the issues are. Root Cause Analysis is one example that works to find the real cause behind an issues. For example, a student is failing a class. Why - poor attendance. Don’t stop there, look deeper. Why is the student’s attendance poor? What outside issues are causing this.
- Get organized - Some of these quality systems also have programs to get the workplace organized and more efficient. Most schools are very inefficient in the office and clerical side of things. Supplies are not well organized, paperwork, and even standard processes, like the start of school, are not documented for future reference.
- Be competitive - in some ways, schools are competing against private companies, private schools, and other “opponents” and they need to be competitive. Don’t wait for someone else to come in and tell you there are problems. Find the problems yourself, and then use your resources to find a solution. Be creative and innovative in how you improve things. Take chances and go for it.
These are just some of the ideas I came up with from businesses and business processes that can and should be used in schools. What about you? What ideas do you have?