Doing “What’s Best for Kids” – Hmm…


Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.


12 thoughts on “Doing “What’s Best for Kids” – Hmm…

  1. You make a compelling case here Shelley and I especially appreciate your point that saying, “I am going to do what’s best for kids…” may be inadvertently insulting.

  2. I love this. While I wholeheartedly embrace this phrase, I also believe strongly that I support teachers and staff so that WE can do what best for students. When I support the adults as their leader, they can more fully support the students. Staff have the closer role to students. And if I’m doing my part then WE can succeed in our endeavors for kids.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree, Shelley! I honestly think people use this phrase to convince others of their ideas and that their thinking is best. They usually are not WANTING a conversation. But I do have to push back a little and day that I know some (I want to say ‘a lot’ here, but maybe that’s overstating) people in the teaching profession who say they want what’s best for kids but then are not willing to step outside their comfort zone to REALLY figure out what that is. Nine times out of 10, what you did 10 years ago in your classroom is probably not STILL “what’s best” for the students in your classroom now.

    Thanks for the post and giving me lots to think about! #LeadLAP #tlap

  4. Great read, and I agree for the most part. Perhaps if we change the phrase to “what’s best for the whole child”? While any “extra” reading time helps, having half a day Saturday is not in the best interest of the “whole” child. Considering all the factors, for each and every child, as an individual, is what is best for THAT child. Food for thought! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great read and definitely makes one stop and think about the interpretations of the phrase “…What’s best for kids”. I agree that this can be a way of ending a dialogue when most often the dialogue needs to be fostered and encouraged. Thank you!

  6. I think there is a difference between saying, “I am going to do what’s best for kids”, as opposed to having a collaborative focus on the statement. This ensures that we are talking about and starting from what our students need, no different than a company starting with customer service/experience, and moving backward from there. I think you make a great point on how you can become divisive if used in a wrong way. Thanks for your thoughts!

  7. I agree that we should come from the perspective that we, in the education realm, wouldn’t knowingly do something that was bad for kids. But that said, as George Couros said above, we must start with knowing where are kids are and what they might need. As you said, what’s good for one isn’t always good for another. And we must remember to not be the ‘smartest person in the room’ who appears to have all the answers. We, as leaders, must put on our listening ears and truly listen for the solutions that may help the many students, in different ways, to achieve and fill the learning gaps each has that will not, in all probability, respond to only one solution. Great food for thought. Thanks for sharing!

  8. When I hear “doing what’s best for kids” it’s usually one of two situations: 1) a central office type or school board member justifying their demands that might be interpreted as mistreatment of teachers, or 2) a teacher who says they’re going to ignore the “bad” mandate from central office.

    In Finnish schools, they have a different approach: every change is supposed to be evaluated only on “what’s the effect on students” and “what’s the effect on teachers.” Teachers are placed on an equal wellbeing footing in that system. And you know they get results.

  9. Shelley, I think this was well said. We typically can come to fairly close agreement around broad end goals (student learning, feelings of belonging, preparation for life success, etc.). The disagreements mostly come from how to get there. Which is why dialogue that leads to shared understandings and shared commitments is so important. Most school leaders are NOT fostering robust conversations on these fronts…

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