While I admit to knowing very little about the culture or history of horse racing, I know the shortest distance between start and finish is the inside lane. When I watch the Kentucky Derby or Belmont Stakes (as a television fan), I root for "my" horse to take the inside lane. As I watch the slower horses’ jockeys guide their horses to the outside lanes in hopes of winning, I think about how many times in education we must visit the outside lanes. And we don’t visit the outside lanes to win a race or finish first. We visit the outside lanes to build our team.
Engaging families and the community in education isn't a race. Don't travel the inside lane. Don't get me wrong; I believe there is urgency to get everything right in public education. I believe in the power of education. I believe education can change a student's life forever. I believe educators are world changers.
My very first day of teaching opened my eyes to the outside lanes. I was a seventh grade English teacher and I began in January, 1998. My class had already had 7-10 different substitutes. Knowing this, I still thought I was going to educate each and every child from the first day. I couldn’t wait to expose them to literary circles, reflective writing, and the really fun ways to diagram a sentence. My students had other plans for me. They couldn’t wait to show me the outside lanes. Everyone is not on the inside track, achieving educational goals as quickly as possible. I had students with real issues that were bigger than a journal entry or writing prompt. My students wanted me to know about their families and their lives. I began to visit neighborhoods and housing developments. I arranged for students to hang out with me at the public library on the weekends. I realized I needed to travel from the inside lane to the outside lane. My goal is to reach the finish line with as many students and family members as possible. Some races in education are short and some are long. My very first race as a seventh grade English teacher hasn’t finished. Nineteen years later, I still reach out to my students and ask them about their lives and their families. I thought the race in education was a 180-day journey. My students taught me it’s a never-ending race, because it’s about their life, not just a subject or school year.
The 2014 Belmont Stakes was over in two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Education is life long; don’t rush to the finish line. Engaging students and families in education is a journey that is best traveled together. Venture outside of your current lane and lose the race, but win your families.