Stop Influencing, Start Supporting

Stop Influencing, Start Supporting

What is it with business leaders? Why are they so insistent on “fixing” education? Nearly every day, it seems, there are headlines. Business leaders, with their roundtables or foundations, are committed to solving the American education crisis.

Whether they’re developing initiatives, hosting conversations, or supporting politicians, there’s an endless stream of activity. All justified by a vested interest in the future workforce. 

Despite their lofty missions, it's really unclear whether any of this influencing truly improves the state of education. In many respects, it’s as if there is no real desire for improvement. It’s as if the endgame is simply to exert influence. To attract attention. To stroke an ego.

But, if we take them at their word. Believe that businesses truly want to improve the quality of the future workforce. Then, there are, actually, more direct ways to help. Where the means are not about power. Not about ego. But, simply about providing direct support to educators. As well as parents.

Let’s start with the parents. If businesses really wanted to help, they could provide parents with flexible scheduling to attend parent-teacher conferences.

Rather than forcing teachers to offer evening conferences to fit with parents’ work schedules, businesses should support and encourage parent attendance. Anytime. If time off, late arrivals, or early departures won’t work, then allow remote work for a partial or whole day. Whatever works. Find a way to support not only the parents, but the teachers. This small act would make a real contribution. A contribution directly to the front lines of education.

Or, businesses can directly support teachers through partnerships. One of my kids’ elementary teachers had a partnership with a local bank. Once a month, the kids were introduced to a new bank employee. I’m sure the introduction included a brief description of the bank employee’s job. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was for the business to become a true partner with the class. Each employee was integrated into the day’s activities. Helping teach. And, no doubt, being taught.

This formed a partnership with a direct impact on the students. Not theoretical. Not political. A real investment in the education of the community’s children. 

Partnerships like these don’t have to follow the same formula. A business could send multiple employees to many classrooms on just one day. Or, perhaps a business sends the same employee, but to multiple classrooms over the course of a year. 

It’s not so much the formula — it’s the participation. The partnership. The willingness to directly invest in the act of educating and learning. To make a face-to-face connection with the teachers and students.

Those same kinds of partnerships can exist for older students too. Investing in internships. Or, building apprenticeship programs for high school students would go a long way in actually teaching the skills that businesses say they need.

Admittedly, it would be easier to invite the local superintendent to a chamber of commerce meeting. Tell her about the skills that are lacking. But, that conversation is merely problem-finding. Whereas, the offering of an internship is problem solving. The latter does take more time and cost more money. But, if business leaders truly want to solve the education crisis, then they need to commit to more than problem finding. They need to start problem solving.

Ultimately, what each of these suggestions takes is not just time and money, but trust. To make these suggestions work, business leaders need to trust educators. Trust that educators know what’s best for their students, in their classroom, in that particular year. 

Making sure parents have the opportunity to meet with teachers requires trust. Trust that parental involvement in education is a foundation for success.

Putting employees in the classroom requires trust. Trust that educators know how to partner with businesses. To benefit not only their students, but also the business.

And, offering to pay and train young employees, if only for a few months or years, requires trust. Trust that the investment will produce a better trained workforce in the future.

If business leaders truly believe there is a crisis in education. That schools aren’t teaching students the skills they need. Then the best way those leaders can help is to stop operating with such distrust. Stop operating as if the best way forward is to go around, over, or through the educator.

If there is a crisis, then the best way to solve it is through teamwork. Both sides respecting the other. Both sides listening to the other. And, most importantly, both sides trusting the other.

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