Students Answer the Question: What Should School Be Like?

Group of cheerful students looking at the camera.

Recently, I asked students in my class to blog about what they think school should look like. The following bullets attempt to summarize what students believe school should be like.  The students I asked are 9th graders, generally at an honors level. I tried to capture as many ideas as best I could. Many ideas deal with teaching and learning, while some ideas address other topics.  Eye-opening to say the least!

  1. School should provide real-world skills
  2. Tasks should be authentic as opposed to a test
  3. School should be focused on learning not testing
  4. There should be choice for students to study what they want
  5. School should work to fix real-world problems (Kohn anyone?)
  6. High school should start later (they researched this!)
  7. Seating should be comfortable and variable
  8. Education should be personal and based on interests
  9. There should be more physical activity as part of class, but no more gym
  10. There should be room to be creative in many ways
  11. School should be fun
  12. Focus on learning, not grades and tests (and worksheets—many mentioned worksheets)– so you can make mistakes that won’t hurt you
  13. There should be less homework because how can we be involved in activities (like everyone tells us) when we have hours of homework every night?
  14. School should help you be the best person you can be
  15. There should be more interactive and engaging activities in class that involve discussion

I should also note that almost every student talked about the disconnect between standardized testing, most classroom tests, and the stress and strife caused by both. They stated that this doesn’t really relate to learning.

I learned a lot, I hope you did too!

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Lifting the Veil of Silence

Spring is a wonderful time of year for most things, but not for school budgets, and certainly not for teacher associations in the midst of contract negotiations. It’s time to   stop doing things as they’ve always been done regarding school boards, education associations, and the role of the individual teacher as an advocate and activist.

I think it’s time to remove the veil of silence, including my own.  As teachers and association members, we’ve been encouraged to silently attend school board meetings en mas, and even strongly encouraged NOT to speak at board meetings during contract negotiations. This is not to mention the “suggestions” to essentially curtail our social media presence because of the risks involved. Educators should be encouraged to speak at board meetings as a matter of urgent advocacy for our students and our profession. Standing before a community and a school board, sharing what we do for students academically, emotionally, socially, and developmentally needs to be emphasized. Sitting in a board meeting with your arms folded in silence is essentially consenting to what is happening. There is no gold in this silence.

Recently, I attended two school board committee meetings, one for policy and one for activities. These were not the big issue/budget meetings that characterize the spring. There was one person (a parent) in the audience, with six board members and two cabinet administrators present.  There was no heated discussion of contracts, finances, or any politically charged issues—- but in this intimate setting, important relationships were being built. Along with my participation in the meeting, I personally spoke to four board members before and after the meeting on a wide range of topics. In the recent past, I’ve had conversations with vocal influencers in the community, who cover many sides of the issue spectrum. After talking to parents,  board members, and community activists, it’s very clear that in many cases the honest perspectives and concerns delivered from individual educators about professional practice and children is extremely  powerful, far more powerful than a silent group of unfamiliar faces at a meeting. These small, seemingly insignificant moments can change deeply held perspectives and beliefs. The big, raucous meetings, actually have little influence over decision-making; in fact, they usually serve to further entrench beliefs on all sides.

Along with purposeful, professional social media presence, this type of personal activism is necessary for the very survival of our profession. If we do not take consistent, active steps to communicate what we do for children and the community as professional practitioners, both individually and collaboratively, we willingly surrender to the plague of status quo. By engaging in this way we invigorate the present and future with new ideas and possibilities; this is far more energizing than simply trying to preserve the past.

Thanks for reading!

Find and follow me on Twitter @Czaphil or email at hilczaplicki@gmail.com