Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Like Dorothy, I was ripped from my comfort zone today and transported to a strange and unfamiliar land. I left behind the safe bubble that is my classroom and entered the mysterious business world .My journey was not facilitated by a tornado, but by the Oakland Schools Education Foundation’s Teacher-Business Leader Exchange Program.
I am one of twelve lucky teachers invited to be a participant in this pilot program which matches teachers with business executives. The exchange involves two days total-one day during which the teacher joins a business leader in their day-to-day job activities, and another day where the business leader spends a day in the classroom with the teacher. As a committed lifelong learner I willingly accepted the invitation because I have absolutely no knowledge of the business world, and I hoped that the experience would somehow help me enhance the classroom experience for my students.
In January I met my match and I couldn’t have wished for a better partner. Dan Hunter is the Deputy Director of Oakland County Economic Development & Community Affairs. He bravely took the first step and spent a day at Birmingham Covington School last month. He joined me at a before school event hosted by our Proud Dads organization. We Skyped with award winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce as part of our Battle of the Books campaign to discuss his book Cosmic. Frank happens to be my cousin and I was excited to have my daughter with me to share in a wonderful family event.  I’m not sure I gave Dan the most attentive reception as a result!
We moved on to my classroom, which was in complete disarray from the previous day’s Valentine’s party. After rebuilding the room and taking attendance I originally intended to introduce Dan and let him sit back and watch the show, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to have an expert in my classroom slip by. Dan was put to work and spent the next two hours talking to two classes about his job and answering questions from his avid audience. He was amazing and brought wonderful posters and flyers to share with the kids. After a team meeting with administration, we ate lunch in my room and Dan was able to observe two math lessons in the afternoon. I totally got the better part of the deal!!
My day began with a tour of the Raleigh Michigan studios in Pontiac, less than a year after the filming of the Disney prequel “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Accompanied by various members of the business community I sat through a presentation in one of two screening rooms at the facility .I immediately saw authentic connections that could be made with my math classes to teach concepts like ratios, rates, percent, area, conversions and problem solving, but I had a nagging sensation that something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it until we continued the tour. I was in awe as we walked through the 440,000 sq. foot facility and delighted at the possibilities it afforded to teach science concepts like energy, conduction, insulation and sustainability. Ironically, it was on one of the vast sound stages that I realized what was missing from my day-sound! My days are filled with the sounds of children talking, laughing, playing, shouting, vying for attention, running, moving, jostling, huddling, yelping, debating, creating…learning. This enormous place was hollow, empty, and strange to me. It also saddened me because such a wonderful facility should be filled with similar sounds, activity and creative energy.More details about the story of the studio and why it is so eerily quiet can be found here.

The only thing that filled the void was the huge passion displayed by my guide, Raleigh Studios investor Linden Nelson. As a key architect in the project, he engaged us with the stories of his vision and dreams for the future of the studio and his commitment to investing in Michigan. Three times in the course of the morning he referred to the most valued asset and treasure in our community, our children. The connection between the business world and the education world suddenly became apparent to me. We have a common goal: the health and growth of a community, and that begins with education.
If we are to achieve both high quality education and a diverse and vibrant local economy, business and education partnerships are essential. Making connections beyond the classroom is critical for students to achieve success in the 21st century and the business leaders within our community can help schools make those connections.

Abraham Lincoln stated:

“A Child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started.  He is going to sit where you are sitting and, when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important.  You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him.  He will assume control of your cities, states, and nation.  He is going to take over your churches, schools, communities, and corporations.  The fate of humanity is in his hands!”
The fate of our community is in the hands of our children.I spend my days with companions like Dorothy-kids who are full of heart, courage and wisdom. It’s time we started hooking them up with the “wizards” of the business world who can share with them their talents and expertize to create a healthy, vibrant community. I want to take this opportunity to thank Dan and his colleagues who took time out of their busy day to help me identify the connections that can be made between my classroom and their offices. I hope that this program is the spark that inspires business and education leaders to find innovative ways to make connections that help us utilize the vast amount of talent in the business community to strengthen, enhance and enrich the quality of education and grow the leaders of tomorrow.


  1. I am not sure why my comment didnt post last week. I think it would be a great thing for people involved in government to spend a day in the shoes of a teacher. Then see where the money goes :)

  2. I completely agree! I think it would help to bridge a gap that seems to becoming wider everyday.I attended a follow up session with the whole group this week and everybody involved found the experience invaluable as it facilitated a great deal of mutual respect and understanding.

  3. Yet again, we see the critical connections that occur when we bridge gaps between schools and the business community, between children and adults. The engagement and motivation of our students relies on their involvement in projects that are real, and have real-world implications. Queen Pauline the Green has done it again!