Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When You Ask Students

I mentioned that last week I was in a Montana High School. This week I am in Perry County, Alabama and will share more on that tomorrow. I want to get back to something that happened in Montana that reminded me once again why hearing from students is vital. First, the Student Aspirations Team up there is working on improving the experience of transfer students in their school. In a district that has a fairly high amount of transience, it is interesting to note that the grown-ups to date had over looked this (though they noted it as a concern). After orienting the students to the 8 Conditions half way through last year, they decided that their first project would be to help transfer students acclimate to the school more smoothly. Their plans right now include a welcome basket with school t-shirts, gift certificates to the local hang outs, and various school related paraphernalia: pens, notebooks, etc. In addition, they will conduct tours, make introductions to teachers and co-curricular leaders, and have lunch with these students for at least the first week or two until they find their niche.

The day before working with these students, I met with the staff at that school and we reviewed the school's most recent My Voice data. In my blog of November 9th, I referenced some of the very positive improvements that seem to be the result of a new Academic Coaching system.  They also had very positive improvements to their Fun & Excitement results.  For example 22% more seniors reported that they enjoyed being at school than two years ago.

The funny thing is the teachers were at a loss to explain these improvements.  They didn't think they were doing anything differently.  They were inclined to attribute the change, especially among this year's seniors, to their being a particularly impressive group.  That didn't really hold up in the data longitudinally, unless a lot of students had an academic conversion experience over the summer.  When I asked the Student Aspirations team about it the next day, their answer was almost instantaneous.  They related that more of their teachers were letting them know what the goals of the class were.  Teachers were sharing the reasons they were reading this or that, studying this or that, experimenting on this or that, etc.  One student said, "Knowing the goal makes it less tedious.  You feel like it's not just busy work, but that what you are doing has a point."  Bingo.  Two lessons:  One.  Students notice when we are doing things differently sometimes more readily than we do.  We should involve them as partners.  Two. Goal setting--short, middle, and long term--makes school less boring.

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