Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Passionate hearts committed to a shared vision can accomplish the impossible." Paul Chucks

I was listening to a talk show on the radio last week, and the topic was our broken educational system.  Statistics were quoted that a significant percent of students who graduate from the Pittsburgh Public Schools need remediation before enrolling in classes at Community College of Allegheny County, which means they need help with reading and writing. I find that to be unacceptable. 

Many people speak about the differences in dollars spent on students and "blame" failing districts for not spending enough money on the kids. Throwing money at this problem will not work, because the problem is not about money; it is about strong leadership, involvement, taking ownership, and an investment in the school. 

I was a teacher for 37 years; 2 years in the Penn Hills School district, and 35 years in the nationally ranked North Allegheny School District.  I enjoyed both positions, and I knew excellent teachers and terrific students at each one, but the two districts had different cultures.The radio show host asked people to call in and discuss how to improve education. I was on my way to a meeting and could not call in, but I have put together a few thoughts from those 37 years of experiences.

First, schools are the microcosms of society.  As society and rules have changed and become more laxed, schools have changed. To make schools better, leaders must be strong and institute changes, and let the students and the community know that the "norm" is no longer the "norm"; because the school wants to be better than that- they are raising their standards! 

A school district must be headed by a leader who believes in high standards for both students and teachers.  The leader must be able to articulate these standards, and provide a method for educating the staff for implementing these standards. A strategic vision and plan must be in place, so that everyone is onboard the same train and headed in the same direction. Professional Development for teachers must be provided, so the teachers feel confident to share and discuss the strategic plan of the leader and the district with students, parents, and colleagues. Without a plan, the district is a boat in the water being tossed in a storm; with no compass, no sail, and no defined destination, the boat will never arrive, and students will not meet with success.

Each individual school building must have a principal who can follow the strategic plan of the district, and lead his staff to success using his own methods.  The principal must outline his high expectations for the staff and the students, and encourage teachers to create a syllabus with their requirements for student success.  I know from teaching 37 years that students will meet the teacher's expectations- regardless of how high or how low those expectations are.  Expect more- and students will perform their best.  Of course, teachers are going to have to work very hard and give their best, as well. Confidence, communication, and creativity must be the components that drive the lessons, engaging every learner every time. I suggest teacher collaboration, sharing lessons and ideas to spark the imagination, and teach with such passion and excitement that students will begin to love learning. 

Education works best when the teacher, the school, the student, and the parent(s) all work together.  The school should hold informal coffees; invite parents into the school; send home communiques about the exciting things happening in the school, and ask for parental input. Keep communication lines with parents open and positive. Administrators should do everything they can to connect with parents, including offering child care during parent meetings. many single parents want to help their children, but they can't because of younger children. Perhaps the principal and the superintendent could meet parents informally at a local coffee shop. Schools MUST get the parents involved with the school! Teachers should try to put themselves in the parents' shoes, and remember something my former principal, John Schwoebel, told our staff many years ago:  "The parents are sending us the best children they have to send."  Puts everything into perspective, does it not?  All parents love their children and want them to be treated with respect and kindness.  I have yet to meet a parent who does not want more for his children than what he has been able to achieve. When teachers set high standards, they are actually appealing to parents' wishes and dreams. I watched this work for 37 years.

Teachers must be given time to collaborate on lessons and curriculum, and they must be provided with real professional development classes that make them better at their craft, not development classes that are so boring and offer no substance. Teaching is a lonely profession, and collaboration, sharing materials and ideas, offering and accepting assistance, and team teaching are all ways to avoid teacher burnout. Teaching for me is both a passion and a calling, and throughout my teaching career, and even in my new career as author, speaker, teacher, I work to become better at my craft. Districts must help their teachers to become the best teachers they can be, which will improve the student grades, attitudes and test scores.

Students who are identified as below grade level must receive remediation immediately, so they can get to the expected grade level, rather than being passed along year after year.  I suggest getting the parents involved immediately, and asking for their help and support. No parent really wants his child to be behind; consequences of deficiency must be explained to both the child and the parent, and addressed immediately.  

No student can learn on an empty stomach.  Schools must provide for the kids who are not getting enough to eat at home, and the government provides many programs for this assistance. Students need to be nurtured by a caring staff; they must feel safe and comfortable and wanted. Students must learn to trust teachers and view them as guides for their futures; this trust must be earned by the teachers.  Teachers must treat students with respect, caring, and compassion, and feel and show empathy for their students. Teaching is all about relationships, and student performance will increase when students feel that the teacher 'likes" them.  Trust will help students who are victims of abuse and poor parenting to ask for needed help; teachers will never know how many lives they may save because of the trust factor.

Schools can improve, but only with a huge investment of personal and professional time, passion, collaboration, non-threatening meetings, solid and positive leadership, the creation of positive relationships among teachers, students, parents, and administrators, and a belief in a shared goal. 

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Rittman Publishing, LLC ®

You can find many strategies for teaching in Dede's book. Visit Dede's webpage for complete details on her award-winning book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER. Many colleges have made the book required readingSigned copies are available or on Amazon at 

Dede is also a national speaker on The Three C's for Classroom success: Confidence, communication, and Creativity; Avoiding Teacher burnout; and many other inspirational topics. 

I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books.  Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self.  However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37 years. I remain inspired! 

GRADY GETS GLASSES was the winner of Best New Children's Book 2016 from The Authors' Zone. For more information about The Authors' Zone, please visit  

Elementary teachers in Western Pennsylvania and beyond - I am willing to come into your classroom in person or as a virtual field trip through a group called Field Trip Zoom.  Check them out! 

Teacher friends- let me know if you want me to read GRADY GETS GLASSES at your school. I am willing to come in to discuss the creative writing process, why writing is important, and personal fulfillment through writing, along with reading my book.  I would appreciate the exposure, and I would make signed copies available for purchase in your classrooms following the reading.  Please email me at  The website now has plush Grady bunnies for sale!

Please like Dede's new page Grady Gets Glasses for updates about her children's book. 

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