Open Letter to Pres. Obama from Dr Fred Jones

Dear President Obama…“
This is the season for giving advice to the new president. Here is my contribution to the avalanche.
1. The education of our children occurs primarily in the classroom. That is the point of delivery for all of our programs and policies, our curricula, and our reform agendas.
2. The most powerful force in determining the success of a student is the skill of the teacher. It dwarfs all other “variables.” The students of an excellent teacher can learn two years in one, while the students of another can learn to hate school.
3. For success, teachers need a broad range of management skills that encompass discipline, instruction, motivation and relationship building.
4. Like all skills, the skills of teaching can be taught. They are not magic, and you are not born with them.
5. Mastering new skills is labor intensive. Think about learning to play a musical instrument or mastering the intricacies of a sport.
6. Mastering skills requires coaching – expert coaching. To quote Vince Lombardi, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes per fect.”
7. An institutional framework for a new profession of “master coaches” at the university level must be built to upgrade preservice training. This center must reward coaching excellence independent of tenure track academia since its primary job is different – replication (bringing this year’s trainees up to speed) rather than invention (research).
8. A stable subprofession of teacher coaches must be fostered at the school site level to ensure continuing growth as teachers confront the reality of the classroom. In addition, the development of lead-
ers within education must come from a pool of successful school site level coaches so that the understanding of professional growth and change is no longer optional for administrators.
The development of human resources will always be labor intensive. Political leaders would naturally prefer something that is quick and easy, and educators have been all to willing to join them in this convenient form of magical thinking. Yet, while government can initiate quantitative change with the stroke of a pen, qualitative change will always be more difficult. This difficult enterprise has been avoided for decades, but it must be tackled in earnest if meaningful improvement in student learning is to occur on a national scale.

About the Author