Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Permanent Record

Another question we asked in that middle school last week was: What is the connection between your effort in middle school and going to college? We asked the question because the adults at the school didn't think students understood or saw that there was a connection. So we asked.

We didn't call them urban myths 40 years ago, but a 6th grader gave me the same answer my 6th grade teacher gave me when we were wondering why it was important to do well and behave in school: "Your grades, your behavior, your effort in every grade will be on your permanent record." I kid you not, those were the kid's exact words. The same exact words I recall hearing in 1974, when pocket calculators were the latest in classroom technology. The other students in the focus group nodded in agreement. Yup, on your permanent record.

Feigning ignorance and trying to hide my disbelief in hearing a four decade echo, I probed, "Could you explain that?" The student obliged, "When you apply to college, they are going to have your permanent record and they will look back at what you did in middle school, and if you messed up, it will be there and they are going to say, 'Nope' ... even if you have great grades at the end." He declared this with all the authority of an Ivy League rejection letter.

This young student put it in a most interesting and nostalgic way, but that was the theme across all the groups of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders we talked with: The connection between what you are doing now and getting into college, for want of a better way to put it, was "magical" and direct. Mess up now and don't get into college later. Only one student out of all those we interviewed had the outlier insight: "Well, learning builds on itself. If you work hard now and do well in school this year, then next year you will probably work hard and do well, too. And then the year after that. So when you are ready to go to college you'll be ready."

I hope these students heard the permanent record story from some kid last year who heard it from some kid the year before that ... who heard it from some kid the year before that ... who heard it from some kid in my class right before we went home to watch the Brady Bunch. I hope he didn't hear it from his 6th grade teacher. Recall that we asked the question because the adults at the school didn't think the students understood or saw that there was a connection between what they did in middle school and post-secondary going. We adults know the "permanent record" you create when you are in school is the trail of proper study habits you accumulate from year to year. If we are still trying to sell the "permanent record" version of the connection, we have no one to blame about the students' lack of understanding than ourselves.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Learning from Homework

Today was a round of focus groups with middle school students in South Carolina. Among the questions were: What is the purpose of homework? When do you make an effort to do your homework? Why do some students not do homework?

It all came down to one thing: grades. Whether 6th or 7th or 8th, whether boy or girl, whether an "A" student or struggling student, in the students' minds there seemed to be only one reason for homework, one reason to do homework, and one reason not to do homework: whether or not it counted for a grade.  Even the value of the grade was a consideration for how much effort and attention a student put into the homework. Not a singe student articulated a learning value for homework. And nearly every student said that if there was no grade for homework, they rarely did it.

I have no doubt that some of the homework assignments were engaging and had a learning value. In fact, none of the student we interviewed complained about "busy work" as students often do when the topic of homework comes up. They were not complaining that there was too much homework or that it was too hard. What stood out was the exclusive relationship between homework and grades.

Are you surprised by this? I guess I shouldn't be. After all, we did this. We have reduced a set of learning exercises (homework can and should have a learning value) to their contribution in points to some score. We have convinced the students that homework only counts if it counts, literally. The lesson of the day is: If you want your students to do their homework, make sure you tell them it will be graded.  If you want your students to learn from the homework, you are going to need another strategy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who Counts

Yesterday morning, I happened to watch a TED talk by Andreas Schleicher from February 2013 about the implications of the international data PISA collects on schools.



This viewing was somewhat fortuitous as I learned later in the day that the news was awash with PISA's most recent findings. To quote NPR yesterday: "International standardized test scores have been released. The test is given to students around the world every three years. It measures their knowledge of reading, mathematics and science literacy. U.S. students usually turn in mediocre performances, and this year's scores were no different." (I should note that not everyone accepts PISA's conclusions or inferences.)

In his TED talk, Dr. Schleicher does an amazing job of explaining PISA's findings with clear examples and readily understandable graphs. Counts of literacy and numeracy scores are plotted and plumbed. But one thing he says perhaps goes by too quickly, and is not accompanied by any chart: "When we asked students what counts for success in mathematics, students in North America would typically tell us, you know, it's all about talent. If I'm not born as a genius in math, I'd better study something else. Nine out of 10 Japanese students say that it depends on my own investment, on my own effort, and that tells you a lot about the system that is around them."

Don't get sidetracked by the finding itself ("...students in North America would typically tell us... Nine out of 10 Japanese students say..."); that's just a chart in words. The critical phrase is: When we asked students what counts...

See the real question is not "What counts?" but "Who counts when we are counting?"

Each time PISA releases its results, the educational pundits, commentators, and blogosphere (here we are) wring their collective hands over the mediocrity of our educational system.  We count test scores and their connection to economic data and teacher expenditure and a half dozen other important things. And all that may be well worth taking account.

But why? Why are our results so mediocre year after year after year? Adults will site poor teaching, a lack of at-home support, and not-high-enough-standards. But to really answer that question we must ask students what counts. And this requires us to believe that their voice counts alongside all the test score data they produce and that we incessantly or, some might say, obsessively measure.

In about a week, QISA will release a national report that will not get nearly the press that PISA's report gets. Every year, we ask students what counts and, like PISA's results, not much changes from year to year. The report represents the voice of students and their thoughts and beliefs about what counts toward academic motivation and success. 56,877 sixth through twelfth graders across the country give a clear account:

  • 44% do not feel a sense of self-worth at school
  • 40% are not engaged by their learning
  • 40% do not feel supported by their teachers
  • 58% do not feel supported by their peers
They also point out that these factors have a direct impact on their academic motivation. For example, students who are engaged in school are 15 times more likely to be academically motivated. Students who feel supported by teachers are 7 times more likely to be academically motivated. Those are numbers worth focusing on.

The solution to our middle-of-the-pack problem may not be in higher standards or greater accountability (isn't that the very drum we have been beating even as our results stagnate?), but in realizing that the students themselves count.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

One of the topics we discuss in the field and in our writing is how there are non-academic means to academic ends. Of course we all know there are academic means to academic ends: You have to have good reading programs and time on task to teach students to read. And you have to have a good math curriculum to teach students math. Having a solid scope and sequence, clear rubrics and objectives, and valid assessments are critical to any successful effort to support student learning.

Yet, time and time again we see teachers and administrators underestimating the power of the non-academic, not only as something important in its own right (it is), but also as something that brings about desirable academic outcomes. The most obvious example of this is frequently reported in focus groups by students who say they work harder academically for teachers they believe care about them as people. On the flip side of this coin, we also hear that students will withhold their effort in classes taught by teachers who they perceive as uncaring and disrespectful. Though they know they are likely the only ones harmed by this, they refuse to give such a teacher "the
satisfaction."

Among the non-academic sources of positive academic outcomes is thankfulness. In a study of gratitude in adolescents, it was discovered that grateful students achieved a higher grade point average, as well as attained a number of other positive outcomes such as life satisfaction, social integration and absorption, and lower envy and depression. While gratitude is not one of the 8 Conditions, per se, an attitude of gratitude is part of a school environment characterized by Belonging, and in which teachers and students are Heroes to one another.

Consider how you model gratefulness for your students, and expect them to say "thank you" when appropriate.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don't Judge a Beatbox By Its Cover


Adult Assumption Alert: This blog reveals an unconscious generalization I am not proud to admit.

We are partnering with the organization R.E.A.C.H. Communications for our Stand Up Speak Out (SUSO) middle school leadership conferences, which we are facilitating at six sites in Ohio this fall and winter. At one recent SUSO event, R.E.A.C.H. speaker, Shaun Derik, called for two male and two female volunteers to join him in his presentation.

Four students, ages 12-13, went up to the stage. A petite white girl who said her dream job was to be an actress or a singer. A confident African American boy who said he played sports. A seemingly shy white girl with glasses who giggled that she wanted to be veterinarian. And a tall, lean, lanky hispanic boy who seemed to be participating in "No Shave November."

After pointing out how brave they were for volunteering, Shaun upped the ante by putting them into a dance contest. While Shaun beatboxed, the students shimmied, one at a time, to the applause of 70 of their peers in the audience. After three attempts to break the applause tie between the boys and girls dance team, Shaun decided to jump into the competition. "But I'll need someone to beatbox for me," he said.

Now, if I asked you to put the four students I described in the order you thought they would: 1. be competent to beatbox and 2. volunteer to do so, what would your sequence be? Here was mine: confident athlete, male student on the other side of puberty, self-proclaimed actress and, finally, future veterinarian.

So the giggly, shy veterinarian says to Shaun Derik: "I got this." And you know what? She crushed it! Shaun danced and the last kid on my list popped and clicked and tch'ed into the mic, to my amazement and the rhythmic beat of her clapping peers. It was is if she was born to do it. Shame on me for assuming otherwise.

You know what they say happens when you assume...

What would you learn about your students if you dropped your assumptions?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Cares?

Once again I learned something new from a student recently.

Let's start with what I had already learned from students: In the reciprocal relationship that is respect between a teacher and a student - I respect you, if you respect me - the adult has to go first. I have heard teachers say, "I don't give respect until I get respect" or "When kids show me respect, that's when I respect them." I always think they will be waiting a long time. Maybe it's my age, but at 50+ I am not waiting around for some 13 year-old (I have neckties that are older) to respect me before I show them respect. Even students in focus groups get it that the adult has to start.

The fact of the matter is, there is no way to disrespectfully teach someone who is disrespectful to respect you. The only way to teach respect, to get another person who is being disrespectful to respect you, is to respect them in spite of their disrespect. It turns out that when someone treats you respectfully, even if you disrespect them, they come to learn what real respect is and to then treat you with respect. Teacher respect for students must be a constant even in the face of variable respect from students.

But I already knew that.

The other day a student said something similar regarding caring about his education.  In a focus group I had asked what encouraged students to care about their education. After exploring positive answers, I flipped it: What discourages you? A student said, "When a teacher doesn't care about my education." I asked him to explain. He said, "Sometimes you're down on your self and you don't care about school or getting good grades or even finishing school. And so you're not doing well and some teacher says to you, 'Hey, this is your education. I don't care if you do well or not. I get paid either way.' Well, that makes you care even less when they say they don't care."

The fact of the matter is you cannot get a student who doesn't care about school to care by saying you don't care either. Just as with respect, the only way to get a student who doesn't care about school to care is to care in spite of their not caring. Teacher's care for each student's education must be a constant even in the face of their variable care about their own education.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Keeping Schools Weird

Here is something I am not sure we have faced squarely in education: Teachers are weird.  Only about 2% of the population decides that having been through a K-18 schooling experience the best thing they could do with the rest of their lives is go back and work at a school. Think about it, a 47 year-old veteran teacher with 25 years of teaching experience has not not been in a school since she was 5 years old.  That's weird.

Here is another thing that's weird: We have said that one of the main goals of a K-12 education is to prepare students for college.  We've balanced that a little with saying the goal is to get students college-ready and career-ready. But I still hear a lot that getting ready for college is of paramount importance.  But isn't that like saying that the goal of school is more school?  And that's kind of weird, too.  Isn't the goal of all schooling, no matter how long its term: Life?  Shouldn't the purpose of school simply be to get students ready...period?

Actually it might be weird but it's logically consistent. Haven't the weird 2% of people who loved school so much that they made a career out of it, simply set up the whole system to to be self perpetuating?  Should it be surprising that those who have made a meaningful career out of school have made the goal of school more school?

Could that be why schools are so resistant to change?  Because they may not work for almost half the students, but they work for almost all the educators who decide what school should be like and what it should be mainly for: Tests and essays and reading and writing and math, but not creativity and art and socializing and dance and music and physical education.  If that latter set of educable skills is exactly what business leaders and the future seem to say we need, why can't we foster those skills and not simply entrench the status quo?  Weird.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Creating Time

Tick. Tock. Talking with educators about their greatest challenge in school, what tops the list is not unmotivated students, disengaged parents, or a lack of money.  Those consistently make the top ten, but more often than not the number one challenge is a lack of time. I get the feeling that despite all the other issues and pressures schools face, if there were more time administrators and teachers could find solutions.  Administrators seemingly work round the clock and teachers start and end well beyond the scheduled day and students are on task bell to bell.  Yet there is no time.

Part of mastery is being given the freedom to be creative and innovative. And so a result of schools being time-starved is diminished creativity. Not only in the form of cutting art and music to make more time for literacy and numeracy instruction, but also in lessons being rushed to cover material. There is little breathing space to engage material in a way that is creative and so engaging. 


Given that students, as well as teachers and administrators, can be more creative when given the time, how can we alter the hurried pace at which we currently move? If given time enough to be more creative, we might become creative enough to find solutions to other issues--unmotivated students, disengaged parents, lack of money--that would give us more time. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fixing Odds Against Idleness

In case you missed it, at the start of this week, Opportunity Nation, a broad-based coalition of over 250 concerned organizations with a mission "to expand economic opportunity and close the opportunity gap in America," released a report stating that 6 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor at work. That amounts to 15% of people in that age range - nearly 1 in 7. Imagine that, in the average secondary school of about 700 students, 100 students simply stop showing up one day.

The coalition also reports on underlying factors such as poverty, public safety, lack of social capital, and declining incomes. It is an all too common litany of explanations that sometimes gets captured (as it does in the AP press story) in terms of "zip code." To quote the article, "Their destiny is too often determined by their ZIP code," says Charlie Mangiardi, who works with Year Up, a nonprofit that trains young adults for careers and helps them find jobs.

I have no doubt that where a young person comes from has an influence on where he or she is going. Without advocates, supporters, boosters, mentors, role models, guides, etc. the odds that a 16-year-old will wind up down a blind alley or dead end street surely increases. But  do those factors determine or destine such a dismal outcome? Given how intractable those social conditions can be, and how immune they can prove against our best attempts to solve them, it's no wonder we find the data depressing.


I am not sure why school factors are absent in the coalition's report, but I do know we must consider schools as part of the solution to this problem of unproductive idleness. Recently the Quaglia Institute conducted an odds analysis on a very large data base of surveys of students in grades 6-12. We inquired of the data: What might help predict whether or not a student is academically motivated (and let's assume for the sake of this discussion that academically motivated students stay in school). Two factors stood out:
  • Students who are engaged in school are 14 times more likely to be academically motivated than those who are not engaged
  • Students who feel they are supported by their teachers are 8 times more likely to be academically motivated than those who do not feel teachers are supportive
It turns out that 40% of students surveyed do not report being engaged and 42% do not feel supported by their teachers. This means if we could "convert" those students, transform their experiences of engagement and teacher support, we could have an enormous impact on academic motivation - and maybe even on how many 16- to 24-year-olds find themselves out of school or out of work. 

Again, I cannot say how malleable poverty is, or quantify how much influence those working in schools have over a student's socio-economic status. What I am certain of is that teachers have a tremendous influence on how engaging their classes are, and how much they convince students that they are supportive. The statistics say that if we improve either one of those factors, the odds go up substantially that a student will stay in school (assuming of course that academically motivated students stay in school). I say let's play the odds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Languages Does Your School Offer?

I was recently working with a Student Aspirations Team at the beginning of their Year 2 work. I asked veterans to explain the 8 Conditions to their newer teammates, in their own words. Here is what they said:
  • Belonging means you don't have to pretend to be someone else, and you can just be yourself.
  • Heroes inspire you to strive for your dreams; they give you that extra push you need to be successful.
  • Sense of Accomplishment is when you reach your goals; it's when you are okay with a B or even a C+ as long as you know you did your best.
  • Fun & Excitement is when you enjoy yourself while learning; doing activities in school that show fun and respect can go together.
  • Curiosity & Creativity means being able to share your own ideas in class; you can ask "Why are things like this?"
  • Spirit of Adventure is being open-minded and realizing there are all kinds of things to learn, and just working with it no matter where you are.
  • Leadership & Responsibility means having a big role in what happens at school; you set the standard by doing the right thing.
  • Confidence to Take Action means just doing it! Take action! Knowing I can do this.
You can read our formal definitions on the QISA website, but these students did a great job of capturing it.

One of the easier parts of our work is that the 8 Conditions are readily understandable by all the stakeholders in a school. From kindergardeners to high school seniors to the Ed.D. administrator, students and teachers get what the terms mean. I am not sure 4th graders know what "differentiated instruction" is, or if a high school freshman knows whether or not his teachers are using a "culturally relevant pedagogy." They probably think "frameworks" are way to hang pictures on a wall and that "benchmarks" are when someone carves their name into those seats in the park.

We adults can learn about and discuss intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, or self-efficacy, or the pedagogical conditions that are malleable in the teaching-learning environment. But if we want our students to be our partners in helping create better teaching and learning environments, we are going to need a common language that brings everyone closer to the school's goals - whatever they are.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

On Balance

I had a terrific and respectfully contentious conversation with a veteran teacher a while back. What can anyone (consultants like me, ground troops like her) do in the face of scales that are tipped heavily in favor of the entrenched systems and structures? How do you create Belonging in a district that has a bunch of K-5 schools, two 6-7 schools, an 8th grade academy in a separate building, and two or three high schools? How can teachers build relationships with middle schoolers when they only have them for a year or maybe two? Without a foundation in those relationships, how then could they engage students? And how does one create a sense of purpose in education, when the unapologetic reason for the whole system these days is state tests?

This teacher was far from ready to tip over into an early retirement, but she was forthright in her assessment that programs promoting the personal, emotional, and social context for learning have come and gone while structures like grade leveled configuration, the industrial model of teaching in disciplined silos, high stakes testing, and the agricultural calendar have endured.

I had no ready answer for her. It's a question we face as a field team ourselves. Despite our best efforts, despite the fact that no teacher we have ever talked to got into education to help students figure out which one of four answers they should bubble, despite everyone saying that school is more than just about academics, the weight of academic achievement data required by state departments of education keeps the entire system leaning to one side.

However, there are signs that the scales are straining under this weight: Teachers in Seattle refusing to give the state standardized test or, more recently, California resisting changes to national school and teacher evaluation systems. Even the dozens of cheating scandals uncovered across the country are signs that the current system is not just wobbling, it's starting to bottom out.

But what then? Or better: What now?

There is hope in balance. The solution is not to undo the efforts of the last two decades to improve student academic achievement. Though some would argue for that, I would not. What we need is to balance the scales. Neither does this mean additional requirements of schools and teachers who are already overburdened. Rather, it means counting onto the scale what is already there in the form of effective teaching.

When states start to ask schools to report whether they are developing students' self-worth, creating engagement in learning, and fostering a sense of purpose, the system will achieve a better balance. When states encourage teachers to be accountable for creating positive healthy relationships with students and creating confidence in students through high expectations, teachers will feel less burdened for being more evenly answerable for all that they do.

On vacations with my extended family, one uncle always carried two heavy suitcases, one in each hand because he said that it was easier than carrying one heavy suitcase. Now I understand.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fidelity

One of the things we work on in schools is helping teachers become what Michael Fullan calls systems-thinkers-in-action. The way I see it, in the history of education those two elements have been separate: there have been systems-thinkers and then there have been those in-action.

The systems thinkers, in their ivory towers at curriculum companies and in government agencies, have developed, planned, and packaged various systems - from numeracy programs to behavioral interventions to acts of congress. Their norming and standardizing and assessing has led to a veritable torrent of approaches, a kind of alphabet soup that has filled schools and districts with binders full of initiatives that end up leaving practitioners "juggling too many balls" or "spinning too many plates" or simply "swamped." I am not sure how much the systems thinkers actually interact with students beyond a test group or pilot study.

On the other hand, those in-action - practitioners (teachers and administrators) - work with students every day. Their calling is not in the ivory tower but in the trenches. They teach and coach and correct and engage. They go to games and listen in on band practice and attend school plays. They laugh when students are funny and offer tissues and a shoulder when students are sad. Many probably assume causal loop diagrams are for roller coaster engineers.

For the most part, in the past practitioners used the systems thinkers' work to good effect. Adapting and adjusting, and appropriately tweaking as needed. But a dangerous term has crept in over the past decade or so, and I find myself meeting it with greater force lately: Implement with fidelity. It's one of those terms that I am not sure I fully understand, and fear that if I did, I would surely not like it.

If "implement with fidelity" means to take a program and use it with fidelity to your own professional judgements and in faithfulness to your students' need to learn, I am all for it. However, if it means what I fear it does - "Shut up and do what we tell you," I have to protest.

Never take your professional judgements, your practical wisdom, out of the equation. Implement new programs with fidelity to what you and your colleagues know about your students. When you do, success is sure to follow.




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dis-rupt-ive

Last week Ray McNulty helped QISA inaugurate a series of ACTION Center webinars, which we will be hosting about once a month on a wide range of educational topics. In his presentation, "The New Normal in Education: Vision for a New Learner" (which you can view by clicking on the link), he made many excellent points. However, one thing Ray said really stuck with me, perhaps because I was fresh from example of it.

He said, "Are you going to be the disruptor, or are you going to be the disrupted?" He went on to talk about how many people working in schools today feel disrupted - by the common core, by the standards movement, by new teacher evaluation systems, by state mandates, the list goes on. Rather than that, he encouraged, we should be the disruptors. His point was that we can't wait around for policies to change, but rather that we must change our practice. When that changed practice is followed by positive results, ultimately policy will change in response. He called this "Disruptive Innovation."

I had just come from a meeting with a principal in one of our schools who had twice tried to bring students to a School Improvement Plan meeting, only to be rebuffed by central office personnel indicating, "We're not ready for that." This is a central office that wants us to be there, wants us to raise the level of student voice, has given My Voice surveys for several years and has had us conduct My Voice focus groups in four of its high schools. Yet despite this, they seem unprepared for the disruption of students sitting at the table where meaningful decisions are made. But isn't that the point?

Would your school be ready for student voice to break into all the meaningful conversations?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WTK?


A colleague and I were getting lunch in a middle school recently. It happens. The options were soupy shepherd's pie or a cheeseburger, both with sides. Sliced fruit dripping in syrup, iceberg lettuce leaves, and a broccoli salad with raisins swimming in a creamy dressing (actually pretty tasty). The cheeseburger itself, generously smothered in cheese, sat on an oversized bun. At the end of the line was a box of condiments: mustard and mayonnaise. Maybe the students used up all the ketchup. So I asked the lunch guy (yes, guy, not lady!) what I thought was a reasonable question:

"Can I get some ketchup?"
"No."
"Oh. You're out of ketchup?"
"No. I can't give you any. It would put you over the calorie count."
"What??"
"According to the rules we have to follow, the ketchup would put the meal over the calorie count. Sorry."

He said it with a smile... actually it was a sheepish it-doesn't-make-sense-to-me-either grin.

I resisted: If I put back one grape in the syrupy fruit salad... If I gut the bun... Scrape off half the cheese... If I pick out the raisins... can I get some ketchup? because he was just following the rules. Seriously?

It's a metaphor, right? I don't know how it got this way in schools. I don't know if the U.S. Department of Education makes these decisions or the state Department of Education or the district Department of School Lunches (or Curriculum or Assessment or Professional Development).

There are far too many reasonable decisions that have been taken out of the hands of the people who are actually in schools - students and teachers and principals - and made by policy-makers at various levels above them. It frequently amounts to a limited set of options that make very little sense.

I can forgo the ketchup, and probably should keep a better eye on my calorie count. What I cannot forgo is the professional judgement of those who work most closely with students, in favor of some data-driven policy set by someone who hasn't set foot in a school cafeteria in years.




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When News is News

A consistent theme we hear from students in focus groups is that the things they learn in school are not at all connected to their everyday lives. In fact, the National My Voice Student Report (Grades 6-12) 2012 reports that just 45% of students agreed that "My classes help me understand what is happening in my everyday life."

Two years ago, for example, when the Middle East was first erupting in revolution, I conducted an informal survey of what high school students were learning in their social studies classes. The closest I came to revolution was the 1800's in the United States and France. The closest I came to Egypt was pyramids.

It was heartening to learn that in Maine, at least, college professors are proving more responsive to the current situation in Syria and the United States' role in what is unfolding. Indeed, to learn to read and analyze the signs of our times, rather than the words in a textbook about times past, is exactly the kind of education called for in a Google-able world. What is disheartening is that making learning relevant in this way - in political science classes, no less! - is considered newsworthy.

If this is news on college campuses, I can only guess what press it would generate if it was happening in middle and high schools. Imagine math classes that did statistics using the sports and financial pages. Suppose language arts deconstructed advertising pitches, political commentary, and celebrity magazines. What if science classes experimented the stuff that grows in teenagers' bedrooms when they don't put their clothes in the hamper! I wonder, would that make it into the newspapers?

Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي via Compfight cc

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Not Listening



It is increasingly rare to hear teachers object to the idea that students should have a voice in their experience of school. Today, however, was one of those rare occasions. While a clear majority of teachers see the value of discovering what the teaching and learning environment looks like from the other side of the desk, two teachers today - one younger and one more veteran - gave several reasons why they thought what students thought had no place in their school's decision making process.

"A twelve year old is just not mature enough."
"We're the experts, what would the students add to what I already know?"
"They won't take it seriously."
"They don't understand."

I can only assume they have not seen the TED talk by Adora Svitak or the uplifting Ellen segment on Alanna Wall's Polish Girlz efforts or read Nikhil Goyal's One Size Does Not Fit All.

I am in the privileged position of being able to talk with hundreds of students in the course of a school year ranging in age from 8 to 18.  I once heard a high school freshman take apart his school's schedule and rebuild it in a way that made sense to every adult in the room, but that had never occurred to them.  I have worked with elementary school students who figured out a better way to get students through a lunch line. I have witnessed middle school students develop curriculum for an Aspirations period that effectively improved the 8 Conditions over the course of the school year.

The simple fact is that students have a point of view that we adults do not. Being willfully ignorant of that perspective is not just to be deaf to those for whom school exists, it is to make oneself less effective as a decision-maker. As we begin another school year, let's do so with ears wide open.