Education Should be More Like Disneyland

Improve our schools like Disneyland
Education should be more like Disneyland

My husband and I recently took our boys to Disneyland.  It had been many years since either of us had gone to Disneyland and like many parents, we were dreading the lines and the crowds.  However, we were pleasantly surprised.  We went on every ride we wanted to, some twice, and we never waited more than 30 minutes.  As we walked through Disneyland and California Adventures, we never felt the crowds even though there were tons of people there.  My husband and I were comparing the experiences we had there when we were younger and this experience with our boys.  It was obvious that Disneyland has made changes to improve the guests’ experience at the park and I started thinking.  Could education be more like Disneyland?

Continuous Changes to Improve Guests’ Experiences

By the end of our first day at Disneyland, we started to notice things about the lines.  When we went to Disneyland before, we would often stay in the same spot for five minutes, move four feet, and then wait for another five minutes.  However, they seemed to have figured out how to make it seem as though the line was moving much faster than it was.  This time, we would wait for ten or so minutes in the same spot and then we would move ten to fifteen feet.  When we got closer to the front of the line, we figured out that they had routed us so that there were two lines.  One line would wait while the other line moved, then they would move the second line while the other line waited.  It gave the illusion that the lines were moving even though we waited for the same amount of time.

I’m not saying that education needs to become a smoke and mirrors operation.  However, this simple restructuring of the lines greatly improved the experience without creating more work.  We may find little tweaks that we can make to improve understanding for parents or make our schools more efficient.  Posting testing schedules for parents often make it seem as though students are testing many more days than they actually are.  When schools post these schedules they include the testing dates for the entire school and parents don’t always realize that their child only tests for one or two days or for only a portion of the days within that period.  Could this be done differently to improve the experience?  Dropping off and picking up students can be a nightmare as all parents are in the same area at the same time.  What could we do to improve how this is done?

Using Technology to Improve Our Guests’ Experiences

The Disneyland app was an amazing change that greatly improved our experience.  With the app, we were able to check wait times in real time and see where the characters were so that we could get autographs and pictures.  The app updates in real time and uses the guests to gain data.  Multiple times, we had to carry a lanyard with us through the line from the beginning to the end to help them update the wait times.  We used the app constantly to plan where we were going next.  This allowed us to hit the rides we wanted to and avoid the long waits.

In Nevada, all school districts use a system called Infinite Campus for our grading.  It has an app that updates each time a teacher posts a grade.  This allows teachers to communicate with parents on their child’s progress.  However, the best part of the Disneyland app was that it was constantly updating so we could plan where to go next.  Unless we’re constantly putting in grades, it doesn’t work well to communicate with parents.  In communicating with parents, we want them to understand their child’s progress, but we also want to bring them into our schools.  Even though we call, text, and email, parents often don’t come to the events we want them at.  Can we figure out a way to help parents differentiate between events that they need to be at and ones that it would be nice to have them there?  Would we have better parent engagement if we helped parents choose the right nights to come?

Using Nostalgia to Bring People in

Since it was the first time we took our boys to Disneyland, everything was new to them.  However, we were led by nostalgia on which rides we wanted to take them on.  Some of the rides, such as Space Mountain, were rides that were exciting and nostalgic.  Other rides, such as It’s a Small World, were nostalgic, but weirder than I remembered.  Then there were rides that were nostalgic but were led by a bad experience.  For my father-in-law, this was the teacups.  He wouldn’t even watch when the rest of us went on that ride.  Disneyland uses the nostalgia that people feel for the rides.  They revamp some of their rides, but they always look the same.  There are so many pieces of nostalgia for people to latch on to that there really is something for everyone.

Schools can have this same effect on parents.  Some parents had a great school experience and have similar experiences with their children being in school.  Other parents had good experiences, but don’t understand how to help their children.  They feel that school has changed too much from when they were kids.  There are also parents that had terrible experiences in school and dread coming to school for their children.  School can be like Disneyland in finding ways to bring in pieces of nostalgia for parents to latch on to.  This would come with varied activities to ensure that there was something for everyone.

Incorporating Changes into a Similar Vision

Some of the changes I’ve already talked about have come within the Disneyland experience itself.  However, there are other changes within Disneyland that affect the experience in the park as well.  When I went to Disneyland as a kid, Star Wars and Marvel were not a part of the park.  Now, there are Star Wars rides right next to Space Mountain.  The Tower of Terror has been repurposed as the Guardian of the Galaxy ride.  These changes seem different from the original rides, but they were incorporated so seamlessly that they match the feel of Disneyland.

In education, we try to improve by changing.  However, we forget a few things that are crucial to change.  The first is that a change that would be wonderful for one school, may be terrible for another.  We also went to Universal Studios and I could write another post about their changes.  However, Universal Studios made different changes than Disneyland, but both worked to improve the experience.  The second thing we forget is that it takes time to improve anything.  In schools, it takes three years.  These changes seem severe to me because I haven’t been to Disneyland in twenty years.  However, I can guarantee that they were not quick changes.  Each change takes time and testing to determine if it’s a good change.

We need to think about education as an experience!

Education, like Disneyland, is only effective if people show up and want to come back.  We want our parents involved in our schools and we want our students excited to come every day.  Education is also an experience for our paraprofessionals, office staff, teachers, and school administrators.  There are so many people who want to work at Disneyland to be a part of the magic.  We need to bring that feeling into our schools.  How can we embrace that magic with our school staff?  What can we do to improve the experience for our teachers and staff so that they are excited to come to work every day?  If we had encountered a cranky Tinker Bell, it would have ruined the experience for my mother-in-law.  A sad Winnie the Pooh would have crushed my seven-year-old.   Educators need to want to play the part as magic makers as they have the greatest influence on our students and parents.  Teaching is a challenging job and it can be hard to keep the same level of excitement in April as you have in August.  However, would you rather spend hours talking like Snow White?

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I am a middle school math teacher.  I love to make math relevant and fun!  Currently, I'm going through a master's program in Educational Leadership, so my view has been shifting to different types of leadership in schools and I own the Paths of Leading blog, at  I have a wonderful husband and am a mom to 3 crazy boys!

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