We are in a new world, characterized by rapid changes in population density, technology, immigration patterns, ethnic, religious, economic and political diversity.
These changes have created a world that requires school employees to regularly interact with people of different cultural origins—be it in their classrooms, in schools, next door, across town, or thousands of miles away. Whether or not schools embrace these changes, these “conversations” will continue to increase in both frequency and intensity and grow in importance. Schools have been slow in adjusting to these very real changes.
However, four major forces are compelling more schools to rethink how they educate their students:
First, there are economic forces:
With all the budget cuts in education, schools are having to do more with less, and fewer things better. With the influx of more troubled, at-risk, underperforming youth, schools are pulling out their hair trying to find a meaningful approach to position those kids to succeed in school and in life.
Second, there are political forces:
A lot of politicians and businessmen and other interest groups have created a system in which kids are being tested to death. Students spend about three days taking state tests in each of grades three through ten, but up to 25 percent of the school year engaged in testing and test prep. By the time a student graduates high school, that could translate to 585 school days. In the 2013-2014 school year, students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in Pittsburgh Public Schools took a total of more than 270 tests required by the state or district, and fourth graders took 33 tests. Leaders in education know quite well that the most troubling truth about standardized tests is that they are a better indicator of a student’s zip code than a student’s aptitude. Schools now recognize the need for more comprehensive, holistic approaches to reaching and teaching their students.
Third, there are social forces:
There has been, and will continue to be, an influx of ethnic minorities (also known as "co-cultures") into predominantly white districts, and that influx will create all kinds of cultural misunderstandings and chaos. Teachers and students who have not been trained to build bridges instead of walls will only exacerbate the current tensions.
The last, fourth, force:
A simmering rage among people in our country that I am afraid could lead to more school shootings and a lot more sorrow in our country. I have worked with people in almost every state in our country, and I have never felt the kind of simmering rage among young people that exists in our world today.
These four, very real forces have created an urgent need for schools to be much more proactive about helping at-risk (underperforming) youth. Though resources are limiting, schools must use their shrinking resources to provide training to their faculties and staffs that equip them with the awareness, knowledge, and skills to reach and teach their students. If we do not, we will lose more kids, and experience more pain in our nation.
So for the past 18 years, I have been on the road up to 300 days a year, delivering my Power of One keynote, facilitating my How to R.E.A.C.H. Youth Today seminar, and leading life-changing Turn the Page assemblies. Through this work, I have empowered over 2 million people in 49 states and 5 continents. I am grateful for every opportunity to serve districts everywhere to transform our schools into safe, positive environments where all adults are equipped to REACH kids, and all kids are empowered to REACH their destinies.