What is School Really Like?

What is school really like for students?  As the 2016-2017 school year began last week I found myself walking through classrooms and reflecting on my own school experience.   How would my mind set be different today if I was going to school instead of back then?  I tend to ask myself this often and then last year as we were moving to Bismarck I found a treasure.

Laying in a box encapsulated with a layer of dust was a piece of history.  A piece of history that would tell a story of humor, emotion, fear, and most certainly reality.  I had found my sophomore English journal. For the next hour I took a trip down memory lane and I must share with you an excerpt taken from an entry from the Fall of 1996.

“In this school we get too much work, which is not right. Challenging us is one thing, but when they pile on 17 worksheets at a time, that’s going way too far. I think that on hot days, we should be able to have class outside. This school smells because of everyone sweating to death sitting in an oven, oh I mean classroom. It’s time this school starts to change. I’m sick of the way it’s being run. Well I now have a page, I could write forever though.”

I know you are starting to find it hard to believe, but I was actually a good kid.  You can ask my teachers or my mother.  They can vouch for me (and not because I may have bribed them).  You can also probably get an idea of why I became a teacher, and then an administrator.  But it certainly begs the question – is this what school is like today for our kids.

Survey data will confirm that many kids do in-fact feel somewhat similar.  How do we get away from the “going through the motions,” or the “jumping through hoops” mentality?  More importantly how can we get children to enjoy school and enjoy their learning?

Twenty years ago we were consumed with knowledge regurgitation.  If you had a good memory you did very well in school.  We sat in rows, we were given a lecture, we took notes, memorized them, were supplemented with countless worksheets, and took chapter tests.  This worked very well for some but not so much for others.

So how can we make school work for all?  The simple answer is this.  Let’s shift from knowledge regurgitation to the application and creation of new knowledge.  Today technology has allowed us all to be instantly knowledgeable.  If you don’t know an answer you Google it or YouTube it from the electronic encyclopedia that you carry around in your pockets.

Students today thrive on immediacy.  They want the answer right now.  This does not make them impatient or constitute any type of character flaw, but instead has given birth to the innovative mind.  This mind is exactly what is needed as we head into an era in which most of our elementary-aged kids will take jobs that have yet to be invented.

So what exactly should school look like you might be asking?  Let’s create an atmosphere in which we celebrate the uniqueness of every individual within the walls of the school.  Let’s allow our students and teachers to take risks and to step outside of their comfort zones.  In doing so we must allow our students and teachers to be creative, to collaborate and communicate, and to be critical thinkers.  We must give our students real-world, relevant curriculum that stimulates the mind and provides a benefit for all mankind.  We must get to an era in which learning is constant and time a variable.  Right now we put a time-limit on learning by saying the following.  The worksheet must be done tomorrow. We will have a test in one week. Your project is due at the end of the quarter.

We can make learning constant, and time irrelevant, and we can do it while strengthening character skills such as dependability and responsibility. This will be a reality and even though my reality twenty years ago was quite different, it does not mean that it didn’t shape me into who I am today.  I had amazing teachers.  In particular, Mrs. Shelly Kinn who gave us the assignment to journal every week in English.  I would not be the educator I am today if it weren’t for her and the rest of the teachers I had.  They did an amazing job and did what was considered “best practices” at the time.

Going forward, we must proceed in education with a sense of urgency.  We must give every child a belief that they can change the world.  Every one of us has something great to offer.  By instilling this belief in each other and in our students we can make learning fun and life more enjoyable.
Are you with me