It’s back to school time, again. I’m reading all the pumped up tweets on how to make it a great year, again. I’m also reading many of the “how to” and “how not to” articles that promise a fantastic school year. The last few articles I’ve read from major and well known educational publications left me baffled and amused.
One finds studies on the effects of proper lighting, positioning of furniture and materials, and the overall atmosphere of a classroom on how students feel about school. This idea seems to resurface every few years as a novel concept. If students have to be in a square box all day, I guess we should make it as pleasant as possible. Common sense, right?
Another article addresses helping students understand that math is not something to fear, that is is okay to make mistakes, take one’s time and think about the math instead of the right answer. Common sense, right? This is not new information, we just don’t pay any attention to it. Good teachers want to take the time needed for this kind of learning, but when pacing guides rule the school, they have to move on despite what their gut tells them.
Most teachers work hard, very hard. They are dealt a random deck of same aged students, given a room in which to work and handed all the deadlines for the year. They are told to make sure that all the students meet the standards by the end of the year regardless of where those students are at the beginning of the school year. Teachers can’t slow down too much or speed ahead too quickly based on the needs of the students because our school system doesn’t work that way. We handle that through mortifying remediation, failing and repeating a grade level or possibly testing for a gifted program, when there is one available. Common sense, right?
I recently read another “not so new” finding that reports principals wanting more coaching from their district office and less compliance oriented meetings. Common sense, right? Another clog in the wheel of our current schooling scenario requires a systematic roll out of compliance procedures to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s likely that many district office staff would like nothing better than to spend more time in schools coaching and supporting the work of a school leader. The brutal reality is that much of district level time is taken up in compliance documentation, mandated reporting and a myriad of other responsibilities including parent complaints and concerns. The bureaucracy beast is in control.
Now it seems that everyone wants a great school year, students, parents, teachers, principals, school staff and all those who work at that behind the scenes place called the district/county office. Common sense, right? When asked, each participant will tell you what they need in order to have a successful school year, but do we ask? That might be a good place to start, but do we really want to know?
Much of what we do in schools is antithetical to authentic and meaningful learning. Many of the practices, procedures and policies are not designed with learning in mind even though schools are identified as “learning” institutions. Schools keep running on the endless wheel of repetition and reinvention of the same old ideas under new names. It’s no wonder that “Back to School” cheer leading is needed in order to sell an outdated industrial aged relic that refuses to move on or pass away.
My hope is that brave people in schools will ask the tough, common sense questions of the right people on behalf of every learner in every school. My other hope is that real choices in one’s educational journey become a reality for every child.
Please add common sense to the school supply list this year!