Everyone has heard the “bad hire” stories—employees who looked great on paper, aced their interview, and stood head and shoulders above other candidates, only to perform way below expectations upon hire. Bad hires can do serious damage to any organization, but in education—where the individuals working in schools and classrooms have the power to shape the trajectory of a child’s life—the stakes are especially high. Even so, a number of studies suggest that school systems rely on inaccurate systems and processes for hiring.
There is an oft-told story about a kindergartener reflecting with his teacher about the color of apples. He kept insisting they were all the same color, while his teacher offered examples of apples that were red, green, and harvest gold. “Why,” she pondered, “do you think they are all the same?” He replied, “Because they are all white on the inside.” Both were right. Rural education is a different color. It often comes packaged in isolated communities with less of everything. Less opportunity in terms of course offerings for students. Less economies of scale for purchasing. Less collaboration among teachers of the same subject or grade level. Less money and all that enables. But inside, the hopes of parents and educators in rural America are the same as parents and educators in any setting. They want their children to have equal opportunities for success. They want them to live happy, productive, and fulfilling lives.
Rural schools always have been and should continue to be the real and symbolic cornerstone of their communities. If we are to transform educational and economic opportunities across rural America, then rural schools must become much more than a place—they must become the driving force where things take place. In addition to being college, work, and future ready, we must be rural ready. We need to rethink rural economic and educational policy at the national, state, regional, and local levels so that deeper, broader, and more persistent prosperity is truly possible. So how do we pursue a rural-ready agenda that works for many people and communities in many places? Successful rural prosperity initiatives include 3 basic moves.
Rural America is vital to our nation’s future. It is the place where this nation started, and it will contribute significantly to where this country goes next, particularly regarding broader and deeper economic prosperity. Why are rural communities so important?
According to research from Gallup, students who strongly agreed with the statements, “My school is committed to building the strengths of each student” and “I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future” are 30 times more likely to be engaged than students who strongly disagree! Since student engagement is a critical factor in academic performance, taking the time at the beginning of the year to identify student strengths can yield high returns throughout the school year.