AUTHOR SHARES VISION
FOR SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS
Mychal Wynn has a vision of how schools ought to be.
The former failing inner city student turned educator and author knows it isn’t easy helping students like him succeed, but they don’t need our pity. They just need inspiration, good instruction and lots of caring support.
His vision is for schools to serve as an extended family, with everyone on staff – from custodians and cooks to librarians and principals – supporting the successful development of every child’s hidden potential.
He sees a working partnership between school personnel and parents. Parents would not just feel "welcomed" at school; they would be fully involved.
Parents would contribute their talents to the school on a regular basis. If they are carpenters, they can build something. Cooks can cook something. Seamstresses can make costumes. Spanish-speaking parents can tutor children learning Spanish as a second language.
It’s not the value of what they create that counts -- it’s the value of their involvement.
Mr. Wynn sees fathers just dropping by school on the way to work. That by itself would send a message to the boys in school: "Watch out, there are dads present."
In Mr. Wynn’s vision, school personnel and children and parents touch one another on a regular basis – if not with an embrace, at least with a firm handshake. Physical contact is important.
In his vision, no child would feel put down or classified as someone without talent or ability to succeed. Every child would develop his talent and become a productive member of society.
As a classroom teacher for nearly 20 years, Mr. Wynn effectively implemented the theory of multiple intelligences to discover the productive capabilities of all students.
In his vision, essentially all students would develop excellent literacy skills by focusing the whole "school family’s" effort on this goal.
Every child would have a book checked out and in his backpack to read at all times. Any member of the school family – including custodians and food service personnel -- could ask a child what book he’s reading right now and find out the name, author, plot or subject of the book.
Children’s literacy skills would be developed gradually but consistently.
Mr. Wynn sees the teacher on the first day asking the children to read for 3 minutes, think for 3 minutes, write for 3 minutes and then speak for 3 minutes to the class. He sees the exercise being increased daily until children are spending 20-30 minutes on each step.
He sees teachers and parents collaborating in the creation of individual action plans to help every child succeed.
Speaking at the 2002 August Institute, put on by the Washington State Migrant and Bilingual Education Programs, Mr. Wynn offered a unique perspective. Born in poverty, given up for adoption, and raised by a family in Chicago’s inner city, Mr. Wynn did not enter school as a child ready to learn. By second grade, he was just another black kid with F’s in every subject.
"If it weren’t for social promotion, I might still be stuck there in that classroom," he jokes.
His fifth-grade teacher, however, refused to pity him, refused to accept his excuses or his scholastic disinterest, and ultimately refused to allow him to fail.
Since then Mr. Wynn has taught in some of the nation’s toughest schools, has written 15 books, and he now trains more than 100,000 parents and educators a year in how to help children succeed in school and in life.
Mr. Wynn offers several keys to success:
Mr. Wynn encourages the entire school family to work with passion. He says when the final judgment comes after this life, he does not expect his Maker to ask him about the honors he achieved. Rather, he expects to be asked: "What did you do for the children."
Mr. Wynn urges all teachers to ask themselves: "What am I doing? Where am I heading? Can I reach my goals?"
"When we start a project," says Mr. Wynn, "we have to be sure we are going to make it."
If we don’t know where we are going, why we want to be there, and what to do when we reach the end, we will be lost most of the time, he says.
"Then it is of great importance to have a clear vision of the whole process. Also, we must create a very well instrumented strategy. That means, create adequate methods to achieve this vision," he says.
Teachers should ask themselves: What do my students need to know to integrate into this vision? What would be the best school and cultural environment to accomplish the vision successfully? What curricula content is required to meet the goals of the vision?
But Mr. Wynn says the key to achieving good results in teaching is motivation. Tell the students, "We know you can make it. We are sure you have the skills and talents to learn. We trust you.
"It is not a good idea to feel sorry for the students that don’t master the English language, he says. "We must let them feel a part of the class or group, let them feel they are capable to pushing ahead. Let them know they are equal -- they only speak another language – and that eventually will be an advantage -- and to learn English is the key to open wide the community doors.
"We must let them know we will work together, intensively, to make sure they soon obtain the necessary mastery of the English language," Mr. Wynn says.
Students must be motivated and inspired in academics, as much as in sports, he says.
"The sports trophies sometimes are huge, but tell me about the academic achievement prizes. They are always smaller, if there are any," Mr. Wynn notes.
"Some schools used to justify this lack of motivational prizes with the well-known concept of, ‘We don’t want to make others feel bad.’
"Well, let me tell you, I don’t agree," he says. "Success has to be celebrated. The best students must be recognized, and those who remain behind must consider it a call to redouble their efforts to get themselves a trophy.
"It depends on the educators to keep alive in the students the desire to overcome obstacles and to see their peers’ success as a challenge to face with courage," declares Mr. Wynn.
"Don’t feel sorry for the ‘poor children.’ They don’t need your pity," says Mr. Wynn.
"I faced the racial and cultural struggle due to the dark color of my skin, even though I was born in this country," he recounts. "I am a minority and could overcome the obstacles thanks to a teacher who treated me as equal, with the same rights and obligations as the other students, and who punished me when I started giving up.
"I recognize the merit of those who gave their best shot to educate me and got me ready for a better future. Here I am. These are the results," he says.