Guest Post: Christy, Chrysler or Chrysalis

I think that how we look at students has a huge impact on how we treat students.  Let me give you three examples to get your thinking started.

Are students widgets?

This would be a Chrysler, as in a car is a widget.  People design cars, design processes for making cars, selling cars, and fixing cars.  Once a car is designed we can work on a better design, once a process is in place we can design a better process.  Marketing changes to accomplish more selling.  It is an interconnected process from start to finish that has many opportunities for revising, improving, changing.  In some ways students look like widgets.  Each student enters the assembly line in Kindergarten and is put on the track to graduate at the end of 12th grade.  Along the way certain Carstandards must be met, if the standards are not met the student gets pulled off the line, reworked a bit, hopefully brought up to standard and then put back on the line to keep moving toward that graduation date.  We rate schools on how many successful widgets they produce.  We define success from the corporate offices at the state or federal level and refine the “success determining process” so that millions of students can easily be coded into success or non success categories.  With students as widgets schools need to manage objects, sort, organize and maintain quality control.  Principals manage teachers as assembly line machinery, if one is not working we just switch it out with a working one, boards manage schools as factories seeing which ones are producing the most widgets.  Management centers on those numbers that define success.

Are students employees?

We can also look at students as employees.  Employees are hired by a company to get a certain job done and in return receive a fair compensation.  Along the way they need to be managed, pointed in the right directions so to say.  They need some inspiration at times, other times they need some controlling.  Employees can take on many different forms customerfrom the assembly line type employee being very compliant to the process to a Google employee with significant leeway to define his/her process.  Employees are there to get the work done that is under the umbrella of the company.  Students are “employed” to meet the standards, put in the time, and in the end we will pay you with a grade, a diploma, and give you a recommendation for your next place of employment.  That recommendation will vary depending upon your performance.  With students as employees schools need to manage people as part of a large human resource process.  Teachers manage the students under them, principals manage the teachers, superintendents manage the principals, school boards oversee the entire process as a large corporation.  Treating students as employees makes for a very different organization than treating students as widgets.

Are students customers?

What if schools treated students as customers?  Customers have money to spend to get what they need and want.  In the US customers have a myriad of choices in front of them, they need to investigate, shop around to find the best deal.  They talk to each other about the deals they got, or the high quality product they found, or the piece of junk they just paid for.  Customers get to choose how to allocate their spending, sure getting groceries is a high priority, but even with Chrysalisthat how much fruit do you buy, how much ice cream?  Stores cater to the needs and wants of customers and work to be just a bit better than the other guy down the street.  Products that are no longer needed are no longer produced or even supported.  Schools that treat students as customers realize that students can come to their school or go to another one but also realize that with the student comes the revenue.  Teachers work to meet the needs of students and find ways to support each student.  Principals work to support the teachers finding out what the teachers need to better support the students.  Success comes when the customer is pleased with the product s/he purchased, not when the company is pleased with the widget it produced.  The students end up “owning” their education because they bought it.

In the end teachers, principals, and schools get to pick their point of view.  But I think one of the problems in education is that the corporate board thinks students look like Chryslers.  As you move down the ladder to individual interaction between student and teacher students look more like Chrysalides with each student growing and developing quite differently and uniquely from each other.  These are extremely different viewpoints and I would argue that an organization living in both worlds will have tensions – possibly extreme tensions.  The customers desire an individually hand painted picture by an artist of his/her choosing.  The company board wants to produce many prints of one picture and produce it on time, in quantity, and at a certain level of quality.  To help increase the tensions the company board also has trouble finding the one picture it should produce.  To further increase the tensions the board usually picks a new picture to produce even before the “factory” has time to complete very many of the previous pictures.

So with all the politics around education and the seeking of the silver bullet solution, maybe we should start by deciding who these students are?

Keven  Kroehler is a husband and busy father of four who is very passionate about education reform. After 24 years in the classroom in addition to administrative roles he shifted gears to have a larger impact on education as the Executive Director of the national non-profit EdVisions Schools. Keven has a wealth of experience in both charter and traditional schools including project-based learning, technology, school finance, & school leadership. Follow Keven on Twitter @KevenKroehler .

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Growing Hope Against The Odds

In schools today educators are pulled in many directions and with so many mandates are left with very little autonomy. The class sizes are growing, the students needs are never-ending, mandates continue to come down the pipeline and laws are constantly changing forcing teachers to change and adapt the new demands.

Somewhere in the midst of this teachers do what they do best, teach. Teaching isn’t as easy as bestowing knowledge upon a child as some people may think. They can’t simply open up their heads and pour in information. There are so many conditions that have to be in place for learning to occur, real learning that is. Real learning? That would be the processing of new information, connecting it to something the child already knows and filing it away to future use (not just regurgitation on the next formative assessment).

hope

How can we teach so that real learning can happen? What conditions are needed? Can we even control the conditions? Unfortunately there are things that are out of reach of the teachers. Lack of sleep, problems at home, stress from life outside of school, etc. are a few things that may weigh on the bodies and minds of children which we can only to our best to mitigate. So what do we do then? As a school feeding the students breakfast helps, encouraging the students to get rest albeit isn’t easy but can also help but most importantly the teachers can be there for the students.

Having a healthy relationship with an trusted adult can help a child. (Notice I said healthy, boundaries are there for a reason). Students need to know that you care. This can be very challenging with large class sizes. Knowing students names is one thing, knowing the students themselves is another. Getting to know them individually as a person and building rapport is very important. They don’t know what you know until they know that you care!

Once you know the students you are more aware of what base knowledge they have, what interests them, what they like and can use those things to help them engage in the learning process. Again , this is very difficult when teachers must ‘cover’ material quickly to keep pace with a curriculum schedule because each child is unique and requires effort on the part of the teacher to ensure each child is engaged in the lesson/activity.

Another piece required to providing an optimal environment is providing students opportunities to support one another in the learning process. Do your students feel that their classmates want them to do well? Do your students feel they have classmates who care about them? Would they notice if they were absent? If the answers to these questions are ‘No’ you have work to do. Many classrooms are competitive as most students see it as ‘every student for themselves.’ This isolates the kids and inhibits a positive classroom environment. Teachers providing students opportunities to work together, support one another in goals as a class as well as individually creates a positive and supportive environment.

You may be asking yourself why in the world teachers would ‘waste’ their time building relationships/rapport with students and helping students support one another?? Why? Because doing those things is critical to building student engagement and growing hope both of which are absolutely necessary for lifelong success. These crucial pieces provide students an optimal learning environment to build persistence, resilience, a life-long love of learning and pave a path of success that spreads beyond the walls of the classroom.

Are you growing hope in your classroom? Do you feel your child is in a classroom environment that fosters hope?

Don’t believe me? Check out these resources to learn more!

The Hope Survey

The Hope Survey Supporting Research

Assessing What Really Matters in Schools: Creating hope for the future

Hope and Academic Success in College

Activating the Desire to Learn

Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind

Here’s Hoping

What is Hope and How Can We Measure It

College Ready vs. Ready for College

Recently I read a tweet about the release of the list of ‘best high schools’. I was curious about who made the list but knew it wasn’t going to be the schools I would ever want to send my own children to. I confess, I clicked on the link and read the list as far as the top 20 at which point I was irritated. What put them on this list? Who decides this anyway? Why in the world I click on an article when I know darn well it’s going to get under my skin is beyond me? I digress….Back to the list. It included items such as teacher/student ratio and the percentage of students who passed exams which fell under the ‘college ready’ category. Student/teacher ratio-I get that and can get behind it. The more staff you have the better you can personalize for each students individual needs. Offering AP classes, AP exams and other standardized tests?? Now that one I don’t care for. Should the best schools’ graduate students with a great academic foundation? – Yes! But let’s think about this for a minute…College Ready? Does filling in the correct bubble on a standardized test make you college ready? Is that how we really want to define college ready?

During a recent conference I heard a great quote that I agree with, “Student achievement is more than test scores. It’s what students DO with what they know.” With that in mind, are students ready for college just because a they score high enough on a test to be labeled college ready? I don’t think so.

To be ready for college students need to have a strong foundational knowledge but more importantly they need to be able to do something with that knowledge. They need to be able to communicate that knowledge to others. They need to be able to have the motivation to get out of bed and go to class. They need to have the resilience to overcome obstacles that may get in the way. They need to have the persistence to continue to strive to achieve their goals even after facing multiple obstacles. Okay, I am sure you get the point now.

I understand the concerns people have regarding incoming college students taking remedial courses. Is it really THAT bad? After all, they did get into the college and are attending. What about the students who are labeled college ready and attend college only to drop out? Is it better for students to have extra debt from those remedial courses which may require them to graduate in more than the typical 4 years or for them to have the debt from college courses that never resulted in a college degree?

My thoughts: It is better to be ready for college and learn some things on the fly than to be college ready only to end up not completing college. After all, the learning is in the doing.