You’re Great, Now Change

There is no secret to building better schools. You have to put teaching and learning at the center of the improvement process. The trick is to do that for every child. And why is that a trick?


The trick is that every child is not getting teaching and learning quality. Most educators are working on that goal right now and are producing better schools all the time. Most parents believe their school is very good, or even great. Every one of the teachers in this country has your child in mind, your child’s educational needs in hand, and your child’s achievement as the result. The trick is that although we are all working on this, many measures of school quality are showing us that we are not being successful.


Take for example, the school measure of quality, “reading proficiency at third grade.” With only one third of students nationally reading on grade level at 3rd grade, we must disrupt our current educational strategies to prevent the inequality that is obviously taking place.

How could we not be successful with two thirds of our students? This is the very definition of inequality. Why aren’t we outraged at this educational outcome? We are running the most unequal educational system in the world and because of our good intentions, we must look at this problem with clear eyes and disrupt what we are currently doing.


We return to the point of teaching and learning. And that point is engagement. There is hardly any learning without engagement. We fight now for our student’s attention because the students are distracted. Distracted by television, the internet, the information explosion and even each other. Add the pandemic to these and the possibility of disengagement is quite high.

Creative Practice

The most engaging thing I know is the act of creating. It has been argued that teaching creativity is impractical, but the educational solution may be much simpler, when using creative practice. When you ask the student to create a drawing, or practice making stick puppets, or to color in the outline of a cat, you introduce a most engaging moment for the child. You the teacher are no longer in charge of their choices, they are in charge.

Students at Risk

This liberating moment produces high engagement in almost every student, but especially in the students who are at risk of poverty, achievement, language, disabilities and diseases such as the pandemic. When you tie this creative practice with outcomes in foundational learning such as reading and writing, comprehending and synthesizing, you use art integration to enhance foundational learning. This is a tried and true, natural, educational intervention needed for helping to right the inequality of educational opportunity.

Disrupt The Ineffective Way of Teaching and Learning

Then we must disrupt educational inequality by changing what we do, grounding ourselves in best practices—but also by introducing creative practice—grounding our work in the foundations of learning to read and write well, and maybe not all at once, but certainly at a much greater pace than currently attempted—change what we do—to create the most engaging classrooms we have ever imagined.

Our students should want to run into our rooms because we have created a space they desperately want to learn in! We must build better teaching and learning moments that are foundational to all students, that grab our student’s attention, and launch them into self-learning humans who can not only fend for themselves but also who can thrive in our new emerging world. We must disrupt the inefective way of teaching and learning.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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