Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#IAStuChat: Why Do Students Have to go to School?

I haven't published anything in nearly an entire year but am excited to be writing (more like ranting) a little to start off the first ever #IAStuChat being hosted all day on Friday, May 1st 2015. Iowa Student Chat will be one of the first of it's kind for students to discuss their passions and vision with other students. Be sure to follow @IaStuChat for news and join in the conversation using #IAStuChat. I attempted to answer the first question, "Why do students have to go to school?", from my perspective below. 

The all encompassing and never easily answered question, “why do we have to go to school?” It seems like it would be a great life without it, and think of all the free time not being stuck in four brick walls covered with a metal roof and internet that blocks all outside exposure from leaking in and contaminating young brains. But seriously, why?

An average adult and any college spokesperson would spit out instantly that it is to “Become a well rounded person”, but I thought Michelle Obama didn’t support obesity. #badumpshh. A kindergarten teacher herself would exclaim that it teaches social skills that all students need for any job. And the history teacher says that it’s so we can learn from other’s past mistakes without repeating them again. All are right, but what is the true reasoning that schools were created? I once heard it was for creating compliant children able to be overtaken by any future dictator in desperate times.

School is for learning. As a student, I see school as being able to be done in a much better way though. In a way that promotes thinking outside of the box, embraces changing the world, and creates problem solvers by putting students in a situation to be solution creators. As students, school today should be designed, and is generally in the right path, to do more than just consumption of information. The missing piece is action and agency, and that is what I believe will tie together the passion gap of the true spirit of learning and the education received from schooling. Though the first step, it is not the final step for students to just talk and be voices of what should happen but to be change-makers of that talk.

I am by no means saying that consuming and learning information is bad, it is definitely essential, but the way about doing this can be changed a lot. We should go to school to learn information, and once an interest in that is sparked, have flexibility to start taking passionate action steps concerning that topic. Even when performing the action oriented component, there is no stop of consuming information because humans are always taking in everything around them and experiences that are had. By molding the system to be flexible and intertwined like so, a fixed mindset is impossible to maintain because students no longer attend school for nearly 20 years of their life to get an education and THEN go into the workforce to utilize it. To make school relevant, that timeline is accelerated and twisted around to include a life of that.

The part that failure plays in all of this: enormous! Learning can fail and failing is learning, and the faster and more often a student fails, the better off they will be in any endeavor as long as a growth mindset is encompassed alongside. Today’s schools are what they used to be, and that is exactly the problem I have. Students, society, and businesses today are demanding more than ever at a faster rate than ever that within the confines of the current system cannot be met. The true solution can be found simply by truly listening to and working hand-in-hand with students, merging business and industry thinking with the school environment, and surrounding everyone with networks that care. When it all comes down to it, “Learning is life. Education is a system.” and students stand at the diverging forefront of these two opposites.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Embracing a Culture of Student Voice

The largest stakeholders of education, students, are the least involved in that very same education. There is a passion gap in students of how exciting learning can be and how exciting reality is. There are decisions being made that affect the lives of students deeply, and they are not consulted at all. And the worst part of this is that adults try to involve students and just miss the target and end up with an arrow through the wall instead. To truly involve student voice, an entire culture must change, responsibilities must be delegated, and voices must not only be heard, but listened to.

To involve student voice in the classroom, the whole school must change and embrace this ideology that students have valuable opinions and knowledge to share. The simplest, yet most challenging for many teachers, way to start student voice in their classroom is including student voice and student choice. Let them choose what they do, how they do it, and what they do. Students will learn and be engaged much more once they are handed the responsibility to make their own decisions and not get an education, but make their own education. This simple change, if looking at it vertically where the teacher is at the top and students are at the bottom, will equal them both to the middle. Students will be brought up from the bottom of this ladder by being given choices and the right to have opinions. Teachers will step aside and come down from the podium once students are given control. This shift in classroom leadership in an individual classroom is not a revolution of students overturning the entire school, but simply being brought up to a closer level of collaboration with the adults that hold all the power to their future.

Student empowerment cannot stop at the classroom level. To truly create a culture of student voice the school building and even district needs to invest in students by allowing them leadership roles across the schools. When visitors walk into Bettendorf High School, the first person they see is a student working as a liaison in the office. How powerful that message is to have a student be the first person seen in the office. This builds a culture of excellence across all parts of the school. The world has enough average and by putting students in leadership roles across the building they are being brought up and learning to do more and better themselves as individuals. If you look district wide, there is literally nothing that can be lost by giving students representation in a school board, district leadership team, hiring committees, and any other public positions. Students are not asking for the world, but ways to better the world they live in and will adopt. The decisions being made by adults will affect today’s students that will be forced to live with the consequences of them.

As students, we are not trying to start a revolution even though students possess the tools to do so. The Mubarak Regime that reigned in Egypt for 40 years was brought down by people using devices to voice their opinion, gather to represent them, and share the results with those around the world. Even the government with guns, missiles, and nuclear bombs could not make their citizens stand down. Students are not in anyway attempting anything this large, but are simply demanding to have a say in affairs that affect all students. As an adult, realize the power students possess and have to offer, and work to unleash that in all of the students in the class you lead. It all starts with students knowing that they matter, can make a difference, and being empowered to stand up and do so. You Matter, and your students do too!