The teaching profession was designed around a system based on teaching compliancy. For years, students have been doing what they are told to do to progress through each grade. Teachers have been mandated to follow prescriptive curriculum and pacing guides. Teaching subjects not kids and giving grades has been the norm for over 125 years. I firmly believe NOW is the time to throw out this model and design a system that encourages critical-thinking, creativity and innovation.
What about you?
The teaching profession cannot and should not be about students or teachers following orders. Our world needs citizens who can think on their own so they know right from wrong and do what is in their best interests. Too long I have heard students ask this question: “what do I need to do for an A?”
How about getting rid of grades?
Check out Starr Sackstein’s TedTalk A Recovering Perfectionist’s Journey to Give Up Grades. Teachers are overwhelmed with all the mandates, paperwork, new initiatives, etc. I’ve heard some teachers say “just give me the curriculum to teach because I have too much on my plate.”
What about taking some things off of teachers’ plates?
Teachers are working harder now than ever. Instead teachers are held accountable for test scores and grades and are the ones responsible for everything students learn. Direct instruction is what they know as students themselves and what they learned in teacher education programs. Wasn’t technology supposed to make teaching easier? They use technology for direct instruction because that is the only way they believe they can control what is being taught. Teachers are concerned about letting go, because they are not sure they can trust students to do the work. They also are concerned that there are no guarantees that students are learning.
What if there was something you could do to change this?
Pernille Ripp wrote in her book, Passionate Learners, for teachers to ask themselves “would you want to be a student in your class?” If you say no, there are two choices:
- you can close the door and continue with the status quo, or
- you can change how you teach transforming one lesson or project with activities at a time that will engage kids in the learning process.
Now if you say yes, then share what you do. Open your door and collaborate. When you start small and include voice and choice with engaging activities, something happens to your class and you. You never want to go back to the status quo. It is about building that trust so everyone cares and respects each other.
This is what happened to me long ago and to teachers who are challenging the status quo now. As soon as I gave up control, everything just fell in place. I had to learn to trust them. I encouraged kids to pursue their interests, gave them a voice in their learning, and had them brainstorm solutions to challenges. At first, kids were tentative. They were concerned what would happen if they made mistakes or didn’t come up with the one right answer. When they realized that there didn’t have to be one right answer, they enjoyed being part of the process and wanted more. This was the fun part; they were encouraged to keep looking for more questions and challenges that made them think deeper.
What do you do when students are concerned about changing how they “do” school?
It is a difficult but crucial decision for students to take over control of their own learning. It all starts with a plan and the conversations that build a culture of learning. Sit down with each student and listen to their concerns. Listening is an art. Teachers were taught to be the ones to lecture and do all the talking. It’s not easy to stop and listen to the kids and to each other. Especially if we believe we have to make sure they get the right answers and don’t want them to make mistakes. Believe that they can learn from mistakes. We have to let go and listen, share, and learn from each other. In fact, we can learn from play. Check out John Chase’s post Free to Learn.
So as a teacher today, you probably have some questions and concerns about all of this. That’s okay. Talk about those concerns with your colleagues. Share them with your kids. When kids know that you have concerns too, then you can have those conversations with them. It’s okay to show your vulnerability. It’s about working together to create an environment that allows risk-taking so your class becomes a caring, compassionate community of learners.