School as we mostly do it

I said it out loud the other day to one of our lead instructional coaches, “I love learning but I hate school as we mostly do it.”  His response didn’t really surprise me, “I kind of figured that out.”  I have thought a lot about what I said and why I said it.  I am beginning my 23rd year in the education profession and “I hate school as we mostly do it.”  I am not interested in preserving the institution of “school as we mostly do it.”  I am interested in ensuring our young people have every opportunity to learn the content and skills and to develop the dispositions and habits they need to have the lives they want to have.  “School as we mostly do it” doesn’t do this.

In the past 24 hours, I have:

  1. entertained questions about how our new electronic grade book rounds grades for calculating final grades;
  2. talked with librarians about the future of research papers; and,
  3. watched as a 13 year old readied three 3″ binders for his first day of 8th grade.

At every turn, I have asked myself, “Why?”  My answer, “Because that’s school as we mostly do it.”

“Why do we grade?”  Here are some of the answers I have gotten:

  • Colleges want GPAs
  • Parents need to know how their kids are doing
  • To motivate kids to do their work

“What will research papers look like in 2020?”  What surprised me the most about this conversation was the fact that no one in the room asked “Why do a ‘research PAPER’?”  What are the skills we expect to teach through “the research process”?  Is the “research paper” more than a rite of passage?

“Why do you need three notebooks?” Fill in the blank here:  “I need three notebooks because my __________________ will give us a lot of _______________________________ to fill out in class.”

“School as we mostly do it” is in need of some serious work, no doubt.  Here’s what some new 6th graders had to say on the topic as 5th graders – – perhaps this should be required reading for all teachers.  Perhaps teachers should only be allowed to assign a research paper after their students have responded to the kid-created prompts “We know school is…” and “We want school to…” This wiki was set up by a 5th grader during the February 2010 snow storm “vacation.”

Here’s what some practitioners have to say on the topic of changing education –

I have been working on school reform (or rebellion) for a long time now.  A high school friend recently posted the following on my Facebook wall “I think about you all the time in various classes in high school and how you used to give some of our teachers a heck of a time!”  I was mostly a “rebel without a clue” in high school but when I didn’t “live up to (my) potential,” as my teachers often told my mother, my school’s first response was to move me down a “level” of class.  Hint:  I was not a jerk in your class because it was too hard for me or too fast for me.  I am thankful my mother fought to keep me in the “high” classes.

How do we ensure our young people have every opportunity to learn the content and skills and to develop the dispositions and habits they need to have the lives they want to have?  What is our battery of opportunities?  How do we ensure the opportunities a student has are not limited by the teachers he has or the school he attends?   How do kids and families find out about these?  What are the content and skills kids need to live the lives they want to have and how can anyone assume these are the same for everyone?  How do we develop dispositions and habits over time if we don’t spend time talking and strategizing about these K-12?

Let’s change school as we mostly do it – one classroom at a time, one question at a time.



2 Responses to “School as we mostly do it”

  1. spedteacher Says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been saying these same things to my principal and my students. He has challenged me to do it differently but within the constraints of our system. It is a daunting challenge but worth the effort, I think.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Couldn’t agree more! I think the answer is in your last sentence. This isn’t going to be change that comes from the top down; it will be one teacher and one classroom — and one student at a time. We need to be working together even more to figure out how to do that within the system. Been giving a lot of thought to that.Folks like spedteacher’s principal really would like to see change but don’t know how to begin. Can’t do this in isolation, we have to shift from the one to many model to a many to many model and do this as a network, not as individuals.

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