Heather Wolpert-Gawron

The Equation of Student Success Webquest: Top 10 Responsibilities of Teachers to Avoid Student Failure

By on December 3, 2010

I have written before in the past on various blog sites and networks about the vital equation that must exist in order for a student not to fail in our schools:

Family + Student + School + Policymakers/Voters = Student Achievement

Each variable is co-dependent on the other. Each link in the chain must do its part, pulling its weight for the goal to be achieved. To tackle this polynomial equation takes deconstructing its parts. Therefore, much like a Top Chef contestant deconstructs a grilled cheese sandwich to analyze its ingredients, I am going to break down our education equation into parts and analyze what each must contribute for a student to succeed.

So I’ve posted three articles simultaneously, a webquest of sorts through my blogs, covering the following:

  • At The Huffington Post, you’ll find my take on what the family and home life must contribute to the equation.
  • At The George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Edutopia site, I’ve written on what the student must bring to the table.
  • Here, you can read about the responsibilities of the schools, specifically those of the teachers.

Stop by each site and look at each of the variables. For without any of them, the equation will undoubtedly fail.

The Teacher’s Responsibilities

What’s rough about defining a teachers’ necessary contribution to the equation is that it has become an evolving job description, with obligations added to our plates without appropriate increase in compensation or the necessary ongoing training. Nevertheless, there are still responsibilities which make up the foundation of our profession and ones that we must be willing to adopt as the world around us changes if we are to really hold our own in the equation of student success.

1. Be experts at our content. This means continuing to invest in updating our knowledge.

2. Be experts in communicating our content. A good math teacher not only knows math, but can transmit their knowledge to students in a way that the clientele understand. A good history teacher not only appreciates the past, but can pass on their passion in a way that makes students appreciate it too.

3. Be up to date on skills students will need to know for their future. I’ve written about this in the past. Teachers must find ways to teach forwards, to teach in a way that helps prepare students for their future, and that often means moving beyond the methods in which we ourselves were taught.

4. Collaborate and model collaboration, for the future world in which they will live will not be an isolated one. It will be a global community that requires adults to work together in ways we cannot begin to predict. Cut the losses that go hand-in-hand with our inability to see the future, and teach an openness to collaboration.

5. Be a role model. Yes, you signed up for that.

6. Communicate with the student and the family in multiple ways, in methods that work for them and for you. You have email but they don’t? Find a way. You have given a paper to the student and it never reached home? Call until you reach someone or wait at the curb for an inescapable meeting at drop-off.

7. Continue being a student yourself, and model being a lifelong learner.

8. Make lessons applicable. Don’t be a part of the disconnect between school life what real life. Take time to explain the relationship and why what kids are learning now is important later on.

9. Be willing to adapt. We are in the business of teaching the group that is before us at any given year, and as times change, so must our methods and lessons.

10. Enjoy your job and your clientele. The minute you find yourself not looking forward to spending your day with those kids, find another profession.

For some teachers, this may seem obvious. For others it may be more than you bargained for when you signed up for teaching. But it’s the basic fundamentals of what we need to do if we are to keep up our end of the equation. And I’ll be honest; I think we should be evaluated on how we accomplish these steps. We should be held accountable for how we uphold our end of the social bargain. Even though I believe teachers and schools can’t be held accountable for other variable’s failures, we cannot allow that discrepancy to dictate our own contributions and efforts.

The Final Variable in the Equation of Success

Of course, the last vital variable is what we all, the voters and the policymakers who work for us, must do for education to succeed.

It’s important enough that I want to end each of my three posts with this challenge: make education a priority in the voting booths and the campaigns. Retired baby boomers can’t dismiss educational issues as no longer their problem to solve. Younger families coming up through the system can’t cut-and run from our public schools in their indecision of how to educate their own children. The problems that plague some of our schools belong to us all.

Public schools are a miracle of this country. The mission, to educate all for free, is one that anyone on any side of the political fence should be fighting for as a top priority. But it’s up to voters to send the message that it is important, and its up to policymakers to do the right thing despite party politics and lobbyists.

Cutting education will only cut the future of this country, and that hurts us all. With every vote that does not pass and with every “nay” on the floor, our voters and policymakers condemn our system to further failure.

The equation of student success isn’t about who is to blame. Rather, it forces us to ask the question: how can each variable that involves us all, better do its part?

In regards to what teachers can do to contribute to the equation, what would you add to this Top 10 list to avoid student failure?

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  1. Anastasia
    December 5, 2010

    Your deconstructing is so effective! The end result of student success is so huge a feat, it is hard to see the forest for the trees. But, by breaking it down into steps and categories like this the task seems much more surmountable. I love how you wrote that we did sign up to be role models. Sometimes we educators can get bogged down with not is NOT in our job discription. I can also realate to your second point above. I happen to be bilingual in French and English and people are often baffled as to why I don’t teach foreign language. The answer was that the subject always came too easily for me. I would never be able to be empathetic to misunderstanding and confusion.

    • heather
      December 5, 2010

      You sound like the kind of teacher we would all want for our students. The three posts were difficult in that breaking down more theoretical points like “support the child’s learning” takes thinking of this more accessibly. I think It’s an important strategy for all of us to us with students and adults alike!

      It’s a shame to think, however, that someone with a passion for languages such as you can’t communicate that passion to others. For those of us who can’t seem to embed another language into our memory, we’d love for you to crack the code for yourself and spread the knowledge! I’m confident you can do it, as long as you love it!

      Thanks for commenting, and hope you had the chance to check out the other variables in the equation.

      -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      aka Tweenteacher

  2. Barbara Bray
    December 6, 2010

    I agree with your points of view. However there are some things that are different about today than several years ago. I wrote that in my post on Making a Difference (http://barbarabray.net/2010/12/05/making-a-difference/). It does take a village to raise a child. Get the parents involved. Allow risk-taking. Look at all the variables that come into play in Title ! schools. Many of these students come from homes where there are single parents or no parents, unemployment, divorce, crime, very few opportunities, etc. Even the middle class is under attack. Public schools are failing for a reason (the move to for-profit education) and just saying that starting a charter school will make the difference will not work. I never thought I’d see in my day lotteries for public education. The dropout rate is higher than ever. Where do you think those children go?

    What have we done to our children? There is a reason why children are cynical and skeptical of adults and people in power. We keep taking away liberties and choice. Schools are no longer places of creativity and encouraging innovative thoughts. Let’s get back to inquiry-based learning environments so our children question everything. We need a workforce who are competitive or we won’t be able to compete in this global community. We are already losing ground and that’s why our economy is slipping. Look at the bigger picture.

    When teachers follow scripts, only do direct instruction or quit, I say we’re in trouble. Each of our students are special and gifted and smart if we give them a chance, if we open some doors to opportunities…they can do anything. Teachers need to learn to let go and allow questioning, creativity and risk-taking. Bring in coaches and mentors to support the teachers. Administrators need to allow this freedom in their classrooms. Those providing funding need to rethink the goals of public education. Do we really want to kill free public education?

  3. Paul M. Rutherford
    December 6, 2010


    After earning my mechanical/aerospace engineering and serving as a naval officer in the aviation community, I have been teaching mathematics, and physics for 28 years. Student achievemnet has and always be a function (oh…, there goes the math teacher talking) of those variables in your equation. This begs the question to be asked to educational policy makers, “How do we most effectively evaluate teachers?” which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is about to committ $350 million in figuring out.
    Though I spent considerable time in a highly technical environment and understand that structure, attempting to base teachers’ salaries, recognition, etc. on the proverbial business model is simply barking up the wrong tree. I know and have trained some superlative teachers who simply do not have much to work with in terms of student academic and family background. Consequently, they and/or their building are labeled as ineffective in terms of AYP, etc.
    Teachers that are most effective are those that bring to the table such intangibles as connecting with the students and parents. They become almost literal members of the family. How do you ‘measure’ and/or ‘reward’ that? Though I have been awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching (the highest honor in this country for my profession) I make no more than some idiot down the hall who buries their students in worksheets, videos, does not desire to communicate with parents, etc. How do we fix this is the million dollar question?
    How do we honor our this country’s best teachers? Awards programs, scholarships, etc. NOT salary differentiation based upon test scores! I do realize that districts are toying with the idea of “value-added” criteria, yet we, as educators are in the business of preparing students not just for the next course, careers, or college. We are in the ‘business’ of preparing them for LIFE which possesses more variables than any equation could possibly entertain.
    In terms of any additions to the ‘equation’, I would add a variable of along the lines of university preparation. Teachers, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) need to spend an entire semester in industry honing their practical application skill sets. Perhaps we could call this variable “industry”. This would be my fifth variable.

    • Jessica Reeves
      December 6, 2010

      You said, “Though I have been awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching (the highest honor in this country for my profession) I make no more than some idiot down the hall who buries their students in worksheets, videos, does not desire to communicate with parents, etc. How do we fix this is the million dollar question?”

      This is a huge problem, I whole-heartedly agree, yet is it not your duty to teach or coach that teacher? Especially with your credentials? I think we do a disservice to the profession when we whine about inferior teaching, asking that we be compensated more for a stellar career.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for professionals like you (and I’d like to think myself), but we have to try to bring up all our colleagues…no teacher left behind=)

  4. Melissa Whipple
    December 6, 2010

    Teachers and principals need to view parent engagement that is linked to student learning as worthy of professional development and discussion. Forty years of research by Anne T. Henderson and Karen Mapp (as well as others such as Joyce Epstein), has clarified what specific actions and attitudes school staff need to embrace in order to communicate a sense of shared responsibility for student success to parents and the community. It isn’t about school staff deciding what parents need and implementing a “parent involvement program” . Rather it is is about forming long term partnerships focused on supporting student learning and development. There are some terrific books that have been written by practitioners that demystify how this looks at effective schools. Here are four recent books and one fantastic website to get school staff started:
    1) For all administrators and staff- Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships, by Henderson, Mapp Johnson, Davies
    2) For classroom teachers- Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home-School Partnerships with Diverse Families, by JoBeth Allen
    3) For all levels: 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement, by Steve Constantino,
    4) For secondary– Families, Schools, and the Adolescent, by Nancy HIll and Ruth K Chao.
    5) WEBSITE: FAMILY INVOLVEMENT NETWORK of EDUCATORS (FINE) (Part of Harvard Family Research Project) Join FINE at http://www.hfrp.org/subscribe It’s free!
    It is almost impossible to have an island of academic excellence in a sea of community indifference. We need to acknowledge and highlight what families are already doing to support their children and build upon that in our classrooms–by incorporating it into our curriculum. It isn’t simply a matter of “informing parents” and expecting them to do what we say. It is about fully engaging them in the learning lives of their children.
    We need to work with families by sharing data and working on supporting students together. Shared responsibility requires that schools share power by taking this journey together. It is about building trust (which takes time), demonstrating respect (which is essential for partnering), and having a common goal (which must be student success).
    As educators, we have had 56 years to close the gap since Brown vs. The Board of Education and we have failed. We all need to come out of our respective silos–and work together to support student success for all, or in another 56 years we will be having a similar if not more tragic conversation. Melissa Whipple, Parent Outreach and Engagement San Diego Unified School District

  5. Paul
    December 6, 2010


    In an effort to enhance parents’ work with their own child, here is something I put out to our community.

    Peer Pressure On Parents

    My wife and I were having a recent conversation about the many different things that tug on us as parents, especially when it comes to “equipping” our child to be “successful.”
    This has led me this week to ask: Do we, as parents, ever feel peer pressure with respect to the number of types of activities in which your children should participate? My conversations with parents over the many years confirm that this pressure is very real, and that it comes from well-meaning family members, neighbors, and friends. What I have found is that these pressures can add stress and confusion to our lives as we strive to raise our children.
    One potential pressure area seems to be our families’ activity levels. As a society, we are increasingly activity-oriented. Certainly, it is exciting to have many options for things to do and places to go. Conversely, there can be a tyranny inherent in these “programmed pursuits and enforced fun.” There is the potential for becoming overwhelmed and exhausted by “meaningful” activities that rob instead of enrich.
    This “busy” atmosphere can permeate childhood very easily. Think about these activities: Preschool, soccer, baseball, karate, gymnastics, horsemanship, swimming, choir, dance, piano, art, drama, and violin. Are one or more of these part of your daily life?
    Sitting on our shoulders is the little “phantom” that starts whispering in our ears: “Start your child now, or he/she will never be able to excel.”
    “If you don’t enroll him in these classes, Johnny won’t do well in school.”
    “Miss this opportunity and Sally will never catch up.”
    And the pressure mounts, not only on us, as parents, but also on our children. Indeed, certain endeavors may or may not even enrich our children. An activity may be fine by itself, but if activity after activity is added, the original enjoyment and desired benefit may be lessened.
    Given the current trends, we may find ourselves putting our children into situations where they must prematurely exhibit skill or prowess, overcome obstacles, and deal with friends and competitors on “battlegrounds” for which they are not emotionally and physically ready to excel. In the process, we may have also eliminated what could be positive years of learning and play. In some cases, children may even begin to exhibit behavior problems associated with being over-tired or over-stimulated. They may be challenged beyond their abilities or they might even be participating in something that for them is boring.

    We must be ready to challenge the notions thrown at us that our child may be deprived if we don’t enroll him/her in a particular activity.

    • Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      December 6, 2010

      Hey Paul,
      Have you ever followed Dr. Judy Willis? She was a neurologist turned classroom teacher. She believes, as many of us do, that we should be studying the human brain at different developmental levels, analyzing what a student can best absorb at what level, THEN develop standards, assessments, lessons, etc…

      Right now, school is set up to teach what many BELIEVE students should know at certain levels rather than what their brains are actually able to fully comprehend.

      I believe in stretching a kid’s brain, making it a wee bit sore with the learning, and using brain research to help guide my own lesson planning and design so that the information stands a chance of some longevity in the young brain. Extracurriculars do the same in different ways. However, as a parent, you know your kid best.

      Help their brain to stretch, but not tear apart. They are, after all, students of this world, and if we want them to love learning, they need space and room to consider life as it’s happening.

      Good luck balancing it all. Check out Dr. Willis. She’s a blast! http://www.radteach.com

      Thanks for visiting Tweenteacher, and thanks for your comment.

      -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      aka Tweenteacher

  6. George Johns
    December 6, 2010

    I agree with most of what you have posted except that we need to support our public education in what I feel you believe is an unconditional way. I agree we all need to work together but the problem is that many of us have different goals and different beliefs. We can work together to some extemt but not completely. If the public schools support my beliefs and don’t undermine them then I can put my support in the public schools. But when the school umdermines my beliefs and values then we have a problem.

    For example: My child was assigned to read Catcher in the Rye for a high school english class. I understand that this is supposed to be a classic but I found it to be very offensive in its language and situations the main character gets into. When I tried to talk to the teacher about this the teacher was more interested that my child had not done the work than about why she hadn’t. I know that my child should have voiced the concerns he/she had but did not. I had already discussed this with my child. My concern was that she was being exposed to what I consider trash and this was just swept under the rug by saying that most of these kids had already heard all of these words before. That is a sad commentary on our society but my child had not and I had a reason to be upset.

    This is just one example of where the public schools have worked to undermine the values of many people in our society. That is why many people, including our family, have decided to home school or put our children into private schools. I don’t think that you see the problem that is apparent here or that you feel it is only extremists who want to pull their children out of public schools.

  7. Kimberly Burke
    March 20, 2011

    This was a very thoughtful and extremely useful blog that I am glad I stumbled across. I am a pre-service teacher and the information I just acquired from this read is going to be extremely beneficial for me in the future. I love the strength and passion you have for teaching and the responsibilities of it all together. I also enjoyed how you set up your points as an equation to success. I believe that any one that reads this and takes it to heart will be able to become very accomplished. Thanks, I hope all is still going strong and well.

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