By nature, kids are curious. They’re explorers, makers, and doers. As educators, do we see this side of our students? Are we providing opportunities for students to explore? Do we acknowledge the deep thinkers who ponder life’s mysteries and carve out time for them to dig deeper? In our schools, are we empowering learners or expecting compliance? Author, teacher and speaker, Pernille Ripp states that “for too long we have ignored the voices of our students and we are now paying the price. We have created schools that children no longer want to be a part of, so it’s time for us to break some rules.” Pernille speaks to my heart, and I stand with her; it’s time for us to break some rules, particularly those that are embedded in traditional education. We must craft authentic learning opportunities for learners to explore, dream and discover. Our learners each have unique strengths and talents; I wonder how well we’re tapping into them?
While conversing with a teacher, she shared with me that there are so many things that she’d love to change about teaching and her classroom, but gets nervous. I couldn’t help but ask, “what makes you so nervous?” She explained, “I don’t like to rock the boat.” Educators, I’m here to say that it’s time we rock the boat. Right now is a fantastic time to be in education. There are endless possibilities for us to unleash creativity and empower learning in our schools. I too, feel the pressure. Time is always of the essence, as teachers we often have programs to remain on pace with, or think that we can’t veer too far from where our teammates are regarding teaching content. Constraints and obstacles will always exist, and we must identify strategies to tunnel over, under or through them. Whether real or perceived, parameters indeed exist.
I continue to explore these questions:
How do we go about innovating inside the box and break free from the mold?
How do we shift mindsets from feeling that one-dimensional approaches are best?
With grading practices reflecting an “average” or even a standards-based grade, how can we possibly be getting an accurate read on the growth of the whole child as learners?
I recently read The End of Average, by Todd Rose. According to Rose, there is no such thing as an average student. He argues that the longstanding practice of drawing conclusions about individuals using statistical averages is flawed and damaging, especially in education. Our schools often operate on the premise that ignores the complexity and potential of individual students. Evidence of this lies in our one-dimensional assessments and scripted curriculums that schools often employ.
Teachers across our country examine data that connects to standardized assessments that supposedly demonstrate student growth. As a teacher, I see that my students have made excellent gains each year, but what exactly does it mean? Yes, they grew within that standard or even as critical thinkers who can discern correct answers. I embrace impactful instructional strategies and value the foundations of learning, and they’re a must. But after reading, The End of Average, I just can’t help but wonder what we’re missing with our students when we don’t explore innovative approaches that ignite curiosity or draw on our student’s strengths. Personally, I could write a full-narrative for each of my students, and that narrative wouldn’t necessarily be backed by their grades or standardized assessments.
It’s fascinating to me that my youngest child can solve math problems off the top of his head that most people would have to write down to answer. He’s an avid reader, who is labeled “above average” on screenings, yet his state assessments don’t necessarily match up. As teachers, do we know who our kids really are beyond the data points? Based on his state test data he could be identified as requiring support, but he apparently doesn’t need it. Knowing my child for who he is, he just doesn’t care to take the time on a long standardized test. Despite encouragement and prompting from teachers, he cannot identify value in the assessment. In my classroom, I’ve seen kids who are incredibly conscientious about pleasing myself and their parents. Without the constraint of time on our standardized assessments, some students will work the length of the school day to complete it. Unlike my son who would prefer to buck the system, these kids are genuinely intent on achieving what they feel is perfect.
My youngest is an avid LEGO creator, reader, and an idea creator, but has been described to me as “bossy” and “overly busy.” Respectfully, I prefer to define him as an individual who is creative, tenacious, personable, charismatic, and has natural leadership ability. These are strengths for him to harness as he develops. From the parent perspective, I see that when teachers support him by navigating his strengths, he flourishes.
I’ve seen the beauty of infusing authentic and dynamic experiences that integrate students’ strengths and passions to elevate learning opportunities and invigorate a true love of learning within students. My goal is to support students to be invested in their unique learning journey, and grasp they can never accurately compare their journey to someone else’s. By cultivating ownership over learning, students develop a sense of empowerment and begin to truly soar. Someday our students will need to make a living, and I hope that the learners who I touch will identify their passions and create a path that leads them to their calling, not just another job.
I’m curious how the concept of school would shift if we embraced the idea that “average” doesn’t really exist. How would the role of learners change? As continuous learners, let’s embrace that our journey in education is ongoing and continually evolving. For many of us, our goal is to leave a lasting legacy on one another, our school community, and ultimately our most precious commodity, our students. I hope that you’ll join me in this conversation and share your ideas. In my opinion, no idea is too big or too crazy. Let’s imagine all the possibilities of school!