Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Danger of Hoodies

Last week I mentioned the Q-Team at Chaney High School in Youngstown and how they had worked to revise their school's dress code to remove some of the arbitrary "Because the grown-ups say so" elements that result in an inevitable tug of war and loss of instructional time. The number of students who miss significant chunks of learning has dropped dramatically due to this change. The students went about the effort appropriately--conducting research, making presentations to the school board, self-monitoring, etc.

There remain two items of clothing the board has said are non-negotiable: Hoodies and ripped jeans. I am going to leave aside the ripped jean argument. As long as all relevant parts are adequately covered, this seems like just another we-don't-share-your-taste-in-clothes stance on the part of grown ups. A rule just to have a rule so we have a handle to control that pesky adolescent rebellion thing. I remember a young lady in another school with the same policy telling me: "I don't get it. I can't wear jeans that show a sliver of my knee, but when we switch to summer dress code and we are allowed to wear shorts, I can show my whole leg." I had to admit I didn't get it either.

When I asked why hoodies were banned, the students first pointed out that hoodies with the school logo were available for sale in the school bookstore, but that they were not allowed to wear them in school. You don't need a teenager's nose for hypocrisy to sniff that one out. But then they said, the board says, they are dangerous.

I fell for it at first. I could imagine one student grabbing another student's hood and the resulting neck injury. After all, they have even banned horse collar tackles in the NFL. But when I said, "That makes sense." A student, and then another, and then another, set me straight:

"Then they should ban scarves."
"And hijabs."
"And all shirts!"

Of course. Hoodies don't hurt people; people do. If one student wants to hurt another student, they don't need a hooded sweatshirt to do it. The students further pointed out that they have been tracking dress code violations all year as a part of their project and, although their have been 30 violations involving hoodies, there have been zero hoodie pulling incidents. The proof of the danger would be in the pulling, but it seems not to happen. What could be more tempting to tug on than a rare hoodie?

The students get that the hood on a hoodie cannot be worn up while in school. They are arguing that the ban seems arbitrary and that for many students a hoodie is the warmest article of clothing for those in-between temperatures. I know I frequently wear one for just that purpose. So there we are back at "Because we say so."

Taking seriously Student Voice requires an openness that not every school, school administrator, or school board can get to yet. The more we move away from command and control and towards trust and responsibility, the greater will be the learning partnership between us and our students. They don't want to rebel, they just want to be heard. They want to be safe, and they also want to be warm.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bring the Pizza

Yesterday we were working with a group of amazing Q-Team students at Chaney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. These students have already cooked up a number of school level changes that have had a huge impact on their learning. One example is a dress code change that has reduced the silly friction that can be the battle over arbitrary dress code violations and resulted in increased instructional time for all students. While students (as teenagers ever will) continue to stretch the boundaries of the dress code, the overall improvement has had benefits for both students and teachers.

The team turned its attention toward classroom engagement as they reviewed a building aggregate of iKnow My Class survey results. Small groups reviewed the results, looking for recommendations they might make to their teachers. As we debriefed, several students suggested that their teachers needed to do more to motivate students to learn. They were essentially asking that their teacher get better at pep talking them into wanting to learn. I asked: "What motivates you to eat? Why do you go looking for food?" The students all responded: "Hunger." I offered the following:

I think motivation, like hunger, comes from the inside. The only real motivation is self-motivation. You have to want to learn, want to be successful in school. Here is what a teacher can do: What happens if I start talking about pizza...really good pizza...with stringy mozzarella cheese and amazing
sauce....what happens? Maybe you start to realize you are hungry, when just a minute ago you didn't realize you were. I can do things and say things to make your hunger grow. Have you ever just eaten and you watch one of those cooking shows? How can I be full and still feel hungry??

I think what effective teachers do is talk about pizza. Better still they bring in pizza and have the aroma fill their classrooms. Hunger comes from inside, just as the desire to learn does. But teachers have a responsibility to develop lessons that help students realize just how hungry, how curious they really are. Real world relevance can do that. Connecting learning to students' aspirations can do that. Project-based approaches can do that. There are many kinds of pizza!

I suggested to the Q-Team at Chaney to not ask their teachers to motivate them, but to work with them to bring more pizza into their classroom.