“Knowledge is power.” With Penny Bauder & Lindsey Wander

“Knowledge is power.” Having the knowledge is one thing; knowing what to do with that power is quite another. Our education system relies too heavily on social interactions to teach students essential skills. Beyond recess and group projects, students need purposeful lessons in interpersonal skills to develop their emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership skills. As […]

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“Knowledge is power.” Having the knowledge is one thing; knowing what to do with that power is quite another. Our education system relies too heavily on social interactions to teach students essential skills. Beyond recess and group projects, students need purposeful lessons in interpersonal skills to develop their emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership skills.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Lindsey Wander, Founder and CEO of WorldWise Tutoring.

Lindsey Wander, Valedictorian of her high school, originally enrolled at Cal State Fresno to study Biomedical Engineering. In just four years, he graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biology, a Bachelor’s in Chemistry, and a Minor in Mathematics. Several domestic and international internships later, she discovered her passion for teaching and re-enrolled in college to earn her teaching credentials.

For several years, Lindsey taught math, biology, and STEM in the low-income neighborhoods of California, making it her mission to create a learning environment that was so engaging that it motivated her students to come to school. They explored, questioned, investigated, learned, laughed, and loved — all within her classroom walls.

However, time and financial restraints, added to endless bureaucratic red tape, prevented Lindsey from being able to dedicate the 1-on-1 time to her students who needed it. Thus, many of her “kids” fell through the cracks — and there was nothing she could do about it.

So, when Lindsey moved to Chicago at the ripe age of 30, she decided to start her own tutoring business, which later officially became WorldWise Tutoring. Her mission was to help students of all abilities to not only improve their grades and scores, but to also learn the skills to become confident and independent lifelong learners, and grow into competent and conscious leaders. She sought to empower our youth with the tools to succeed in school, work, and life — so that they were in the powerful position to direct their own lives.

Lindsey’s methodologies were so effective that her business quickly grew beyond what should could handle alone. So she started to “teach the teachers,” guiding tutors dedicated to her cause with her best practices. Now, years later, she has seen her kids return home from college as accomplished, self-sufficient adults who are still eager to learn more.

Lindsey found a career that she loves and that makes the world a better place. Her goal is to inspire her students to do the same.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

I actually enrolled in college to pursue a career in Biomedical Engineering. I loved learning about genetics, but the labwork was so uninspiring. So I switched my emphasis to Ecology, and my “lab” moved to the streams and fields of Yosemite. I still finished my studies in Chemistry and Math, and graduated in 4 years with 2 bachelors and a minor. Unsure of which career path I should follow, I spent the next couple years in various internships across the country and all over the globe. It was an Environmental Education internship in Pennsylvania that brought my passion for teaching to light. I went back to college to attain my teaching credential, and taught middle school biology and math in low income neighborhoods for several years. I truly loved my “kids” and inspiring in them a love of learning; but when I moved to Chicago in 2011, the political red-tape and the extreme emphasis on test scores left me little room to actually teach. So I decided to tutor full time. My methodologies were so effective that I outgrew myself within a couple years and began to hire tutors. I found myself in the interesting position of “teaching the teachers,” and the success stories grew exponentially. Now I mostly manage the business and provide support for my tutors and parents, but I make sure to also work with students a few days a week — since that is where my true passion lies.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

After my new tutoring business was running smoothly, I realized how much I missed the classroom. Since I did not have the time for even a part-time position, I decided to substitute teach. Working on different campuses all over Chicagoland was truly eye-opening. I lost track of how many times I walked into a classroom and not only were there no lesson plans provided, but I wasn’t even told what the subject of the class was. The dusty textbooks piled up in the back were often my only clue. I’d look and see there were physics books, for example, and conclude it was meant to be a physics class. So the bell would ring and students would trickle in, then crowd around desks talking and eating cheetos or listening to music. I’d say something like “Today, I’m going to teach you the physics of a rollercoaster. If you want to learn this, come up front.” On good days, one or two kids would scoot closer to the board, but usually I was just ignored. I’d start teaching anyways. Like magic, slowly more and more students would stop talking and watch me. Soon they would sit, give me their full attention, and start asking questions. I never got all of the students to participate, but most of them did. This reaffirmed something I already knew — kids WANT to learn. They are innately curious and are naturally drawn to learning. For me, it wasn’t about if they remembered the difference between potential and kinetic energy — it was that they remembered that they enjoy learning.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Remote learning in the spring was a failure for most. To avoid that in the fall, I am helping families with children of similar ages to form tight-knit “COVID Circles.” I will give these groups of up to seven children an instructor to provide in-person academic coaching and enrichment lessons for 3–5 hours a day, 3–5 days a week. The instructor will maintain a safe environment and will help with e-learning while also providing valuable lessons in metacognition, executive functions, and interpersonal skills. While this is a “new project,” it is really taking education back to its origins with smaller family-style learning. I am looking forward to providing students with individualized attention from highly qualified instructors, so that they can come out of this with new skills, interests, and a love for learning.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I love to learn. I have always been an avid student, both in and out of the classroom. Even as a very busy adult, I read every day because, for me, knowledge is inspiring. I have been a professional in the education field since my first internship in 2004, but before that I was always teaching my peers something. As an educator, I have taught inside a city classroom and deep in the forest. I have taught students of all ages, abilities, socioeconomic statuses, and cultural backgrounds. Whether the child is raised in South Central and her parents are covered in gang tattoos, or in a mansion in Lincoln Park and his parents own international businesses — the universal truth is that kids want to learn. I have harnessed my “super power” of knowing just HOW to help them learn.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

There are many issues with our education system and we can point fingers in any direction. But, at its core, the US educational system is doing our students a disservice. As evidenced by the school closures during the pandemic, schools have become a glorified child care service. Teachers are forced to focus more and more on classroom management and meeting set standards, and less and less on actual teaching. Students’ innate abilities are being so stifled that “I’m bored” became the cry heard by parents across the country. We have the resources and the power, but we do not have the right mindset — and for that, I rate the US education system at a 3 out of 5 stars.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

  1. The opportunity for free education — regardless of gender, race, or income — is truly a gift.
  2. Schools have become more and more inclusive over time. For instance, it is more common now for Special Education students to be actual students in general education courses.
  3. The emphasis on technology is better preparing students for the future.
  4. The Common Core, though heavily flawed, was a step towards acknowledging the need for inquiry-based learning that relates to the real world.
  5. Though it is not often reflected in their paychecks, teachers are generally considered by the public to be valuable assets to society.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

  1. The current disruption in the school system makes even more evident the need to shift from adult-lead traditional learning to student-centered learning founded on metacognition. Students thrive when given the freedom to explore personal interests, think critically, creatively problem-solve, and innovate
  2. Children nowadays rely too heavily on the adults in their lives to get them organized, motivated, and engaged. Students need more opportunities to develop personalized essential skills such as planning and prioritizing, time management, self-assessment, and focus.
  3. “Knowledge is power.” Having the knowledge is one thing; knowing what to do with that power is quite another. Our education system relies too heavily on social interactions to teach students essential skills. Beyond recess and group projects, students need purposeful lessons in interpersonal skills to develop their emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership skills.
  4. Districts, schools, and classes are too large. Students’ unique voices get muffled by the crowd as teachers spend a majority of their time on classroom management rather than actual teaching. We need to start by breaking districts down into smaller self-regulating units with leaders who are truly dedicated to educating our children.
  5. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves, “What are the main learning goals?” Yes, we want out children to have a solid understanding of the core subjects and to be able to speak, write, read, and comprehend well. But does it matter if they have all the rivers in South America memorized or know every math equation? Our main learning goals ought to be to foster in our children inquisitive minds, the ability to relate what they learn to the real world, and the enjoyment of learning for learning sake.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing emphasis on STEM learning. Some programs miss the mark, thinking this requires huge budgets spent on state-of-the-art labs. Kids are naturally inquisitive and do not need much to spark their curiosity. We can increase young people’s engagement in STEM by:

  1. Knowing how to light the match of inquiry and when to step back and let the flame burn. Sometimes it takes just a simple challenge or hint, and students’ minds take off in ways even us adults likely never imagined.
  2. Making STEM lessons more applicable to real life. Yes, building robots is cool. But there is so much more to STEM than robotics. Expose students to the challenges and tasks that scientists and engineers face in their attempts to improve society.
  3. Giving students opportunities to observe problems that they would like to solve. Put students in situations where innovation is needed. Have them look in the eyes of the people who they are creating for.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

As a middle school math and science teacher, I made it a point to include the discoveries of females in my curriculum. I wanted my girls to see themselves in these women who contributed something essential to our society. Gender stereotypes are still very present in modern society — as a woman scientist turned businessowner, I know. It is important that every child feels free to pursue whatever interests they have, without fear of retribution for going against what appears to be a social norm.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I think the US has been improving in regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects — but there is still much room to improve. We can increase this engagement by:

  1. Making conscious efforts to break down gender stereotypes in other realms. As parents and educators, we need to create a safe space for the boys to be creative and the girls to be analytical.
  2. Allowing more opportunities for women in the STEM fields to be role models. For instance, a school can invite a female physicist to present or a teacher can show an interview with a woman physician.
  3. Changing the way we speak to our girls in order to open their eyes to new possibilities. For example, if your daughter is playing a video game, say “You could design a game like this” or if she asks about the pandemic, say “Maybe you can develop a vaccine.”

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

I personally like the notion of blending science, math, and creativity. So many careers nowadays, like graphic design and civil engineering, require skills in experimentation and analysis, as well as art and design. Afterall, at the base of innovation is a foundation of knowledge and creativity. Thus, rather than label students as “math-people” versus “artsy types,” we ought to emphasize that they can be whoever they want to be. Including the “A” in STEAM helps reiterate this point.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

You are warned that what follows will be quite controversial:

  1. Get rid of tenure for teachers. Tenure had a purpose in the past that is no longer needed now. Teachers should be hired and fired based on their efforts. A teacher who hands out the same worksheet for the past decade and then sits at his/her desk for the entire class should not be guaranteed a job.
  2. Limit the Teacher’s Union. When I was a teacher, union dues were taken out of my paycheck whether I was a member or not. Then when I actually did have an issue where I needed the union’s assistance, and I filed a complaint along with 16 other teachers, the union protected the administrator. The Teacher’s Union has become a political powerhouse, using the funds it takes from teachers to control the narrative.
  3. Reduce the size of large districts like the Chicago Public School System and Los Angeles Unified. Systems this large are inefficient. I worked at a charter school in South Central Los Angeles where I was able to speak with the owner and the principal every day. Every teacher and staff member were on the same page and fully dedicated to the education of their students. And we all willingly gave up the opportunity for tenure, knowing we had to prove we were good teachers in order to stay (like any other job, really). Our students were scoring higher than the nearby kids in Beverly Hills.
  4. Don’t think that throwing money at a school will fix the problem. In my substitute teacher and consultation days, I went to many campuses in low income neighborhoods where every student had a brand new ipad and the state-of-the-art science labs would make a college jealous. Sounds awesome, right? Well the ipads were only used for video games and the lab remained locked because no teacher knew how to use it. What a waste of funds. That money would have been much more effective if spend on developing meaningful curriculum and providing applicable training for the teachers.
  5. I believe that “If you can google it, there is no need to memorize it.” Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but the underlying message is the same: learning does not mean memorizing. As a teacher and now a tutor, I know students simply try to cram info before a test or rush through an assignment just to get it done. Kids see right through the busy work that is assigned to them. If the teacher puts little effort into the curriculum and assignments, the students will see little value in it. Rather than worksheet after worksheet, educators need to explore other avenues of teaching that inspire in their students inquiry, critical thinking, creative problem solving, and innovation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Benjamin Franklin’s quote “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” has been my driving force as an educator for the past 15+ years. It reminds me that students need to be involved in their learning every step of the way in order for it to be effective. As adults, we tend to underestimate kids, thinking we know better. But not a day goes by without one of my students impressing me with his/her deep understanding, perceptiveness, creativity, or empathy. Kids are wiser than we may think. They usually just need the proper support to lead them down their own path of discovery and growth.

I also recently heard “small changes are big changes.” Some of these suggested reforms can seem daunting, and they are. But even changing the language we use when speaking to kids and the opportunities we expose them to makes a huge difference in what they see themselves as capable of.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

One of my mentors, Randy Palisoc (the owner of the charter school I raved about earlier), gave me the book “Teach like a Champion,” by Doug Lemov. Ten years later, the book still sits on my shelf full of tabs and highlighting. Doug Lemov provided with me so many easy to apply strategies that helped me evolve into the educator I am today. I would love to sit with him to discuss our shared passion for empowering our youth through engaging learning.

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