November 22, 2016

Student Achievement—It’s About Teachers, Not Curriculum

It may seem strange to read a title like the title of this blog post and then recognize that it was written by the president of a publishing company—a company whose purpose is seemingly to make money selling curriculum to schools. What reason could there be for making such a statement?

First of all, it’s worth noting that Reading Horizons is not like most publishing companies. Our primary goals are not to increase profits and build shareholder value. Our primary goal is to change the world through literacy education. Our status as a privately held company, not accepting outside investment, has allowed us to maintain our focus on literacy and not succumb to market pressure. Secondly, I have had too many experiences over the years with teachers—people that I look up to in so many ways—to ever question their tremendous influence. Teachers, not curriculum, make the difference in teaching students to read. 

teacher-impactMy life has been blessed working with the teachers of our public schools—some of the most passionate and committed people I have ever known. I have always loved rubbing shoulders with them and learning from them. Those who put fame and fortune in its proper place and decide to make their life’s work count for much more. I’ve met teachers from every region of our country, from the largest districts, NYC and Los Angeles, to some of the smallest, like Stanton County, Kansas, which I just visited last week, and I left every encounter feeling like I’m better for the time we spent together. All of my visits have reinforced in my mind the absolute necessity of quality teachers to ensure student achievement. It doesn’t matter how refined and research based the curriculum is. What matters, above all else, is the quality of the individual whose role it is to teach and mentor our children. 

Kudos to you, you wonderful teachers. Thank you for helping reinforce my belief that our communities’ finest frequently join the ranks of teachers. 

As previously stated, I had the great blessing last week of observing such teachers in action in Stanton County, Kansas. I made a quick trip to present the elementary school with the inaugural Charlotte F. Lockhart Award for Excellence in Literacy Education. The school was chosen for its extraordinary efforts to change the reading culture and make dramatic improvements for students (more than half of whom are learning English as a second language). I had the great blessing of spending time in a few classrooms and watching as teachers applied principles and best practices to their reading instruction. 

I was beyond impressed with the instruction that I observed. Not only were the teachers teaching with absolute fidelity, but they were managing their teaching environment like masters of their trade. I could sense that the students in those classrooms were being given the very best opportunity to succeed. What I saw, and felt, was learning in action. I would have loved to take credit for it; after all, it was our company that had provided the school with the training and curriculum. However, what I saw was so much more than that. I saw teachers who had committed to their calling. They knew their students and understood how to make the instruction work for them, appealing to a variety of learning styles. They identified those who needed more help quickly and executed plans to get them what they needed daily. This was a school that was committed to the education of EVERY student. 

We interviewed a few students during our visit, one of whom had recently transferred to the school from out of state. He was quick to point out a few major differences between his schools, including and most importantly, that his teachers in Stanton County cared about him and whether or not he learned. 

I’m excited about changes happening to the education landscape. I’m especially excited about the shift towards a blended learning environment. This movement allows teachers to assume more of a mentor role for students, affording them more time to work with those who need more individualized attention. We will see many more changes over the next few years. One constant that we can count on is the important role that our teachers will always play. I vow that we at Reading Horizons will continue to do our part and support teachers in their critical work as we strive to provide the best resources and training possible to raise student achievement. We feel like our mission and cause are the most important in all the world. We have a tremendous group of individuals working here as well, absolutely committed to changing the world through literacy.

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