Joe Nathan: What advice do you have for caring educators?


April 10, 2013 at 11:05 am

Joe Nathan Column – What advice would you give to a young man who recently asked for suggestions?  He’s hoping for a career in which he helps make major improvements in public education.  Here’s a little about him, and a few suggestions.  Reactions welcome.

The young man works in a suburban public school.  He’s a first-generation college graduate, and grew up in a “single-parent” home. He’s done what he’s supposed to do – graduate from high school and college, earn a master’s and obtain a job at a school.  He sees a lot that needs improving.

Joe Nathan

The first person I talked with about him is Mary K. Boyd.  Boyd has been a teacher and administrator in the St. Paul Public Schools, worked for Ramsey County, served as interim dean at the Hamline University College of Education, and directed St Paul’s “Street Academy. “  She suggested:

•     Make sure you have a group of support that will keep you grounded, inspired and supported
•    Constantly read and look for others who are being successful. Gain a greater understanding of what’s going on around the state and country
•    Don’t give up!

Then I talked with Dr. Samuel Yigzaw, director of an award-winning, “Beat the Odds” K-12 charter school, Higher Ground Academy. Yigzaw also teaches at St. Mary’s University, and serves as a mentor in a Leadership Academy our organization runs.   He recommended, “Know your resources, human and financial, well.  Who can you count on, and for what?   You can’t do it all!”

Boyd and Yigsaw’s advice reminded me of a one-page document in the publications area on our website,  It’s called  “Reminders for Reformers.”  Here are a few of the suggestions you’ll find there:

•    Set priorities for the next week, month, six months and year.  You can’t do everything you want, immediately.  Every successful person I know sets some priorities, both personal and professional.
•    Look for, read about and visit schools open to all that that are succeeding.  Doesn’t matter whether they are district, charter or private.  You want to be, as Mary K Boyd suggested, “a life-long learner.”
•    Look for ways to share what you’ve learned.  Write to local newspapers.  Offer to make presentations to service groups.
•    Make your school a community resource.  Don’t just ask for help.  Your students can help improve the environment.  They can provide singing, drama or dance to senior citizens and other community groups. Having youngsters provide service is valuable for them and their audience.
•    View families as allies and partners.  While some will disappoint, many will be very helpful.
•    Be prepared to be betrayed.  Sometimes someone you trust will do this.  It’s impossible to know why people do some things.
•    Acknowledge mistakes and apologize.  No one is perfect.
•    Exercise.  Stay fit.  You are engaged in an ultra-marathon, not a sprint.
•    Retain a sense of humor.   While some of us are funnier than others, we all should laugh and enjoy our blessings.
•    Stay positive.  It is possible to make a difference.  Creators ultimately accomplish more than complainers.

What’s on your list?  What would you suggest to educators who want to make a difference?


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, please comment below.