Today Paul turns 11 years old! That's right... it has been exactly 11 years since that first time I met him and held him in my arms! He changed my world in an instant - Paul defined unconditional love for me and taught me what it feels like to be willing to give your life for someone else. It is hard to believe that this funny, opinionated and brave young man once fit into the palm of my hand. But, here he is, in middle school. He has his own passions and interests, his own circle of friends and his own strong set of beliefs... he thinks a meal isn't complete if there isn't a dipping sauce or something fried, he thinks Justin Bieber is overrated and he thinks the less sleep, the better.
The list can go on and on about his likes and dislikes but the thing that stands out the most to me is his opinion about school. I think the word HATE might be too strong but let's just say that he is not the biggest fan. Paul has been making an argument for 2 months of school and 10 months off for the last couple of years; he is the kid who dreads Sunday nights because Monday means school; he is the kid who counts down the days to the next break; he is the kid who remembers nothing about his school day except for what he ate at lunch and what he did in gym; he is the kid who only looks forward to school because it's a chance to socialize with all of his friends; and of course, he is the kid who would like to do away with HW! Does his disdain for school upset me a little bit? Yes because I love being an educator and am inspired each day at Cantiague by our kids, staff and families! But, do I understand why he dislikes school? Yes. Did I view school in the same way at his age? YES! Do I wish I could change things for Paul, when it comes to his school experience? Yes! Ugh... school is a touchy subject in our home!
Fortunately, when I push past the negativity, I realize that Paul loves a lot of things about school (even if he doesn't admit it) and that over the years, Paul has given me tremendous insight into school, teaching and learning. In fact, Paul has taught me a LOT about school.
So, in honor of Paul's 11th birthday, here are 11 things I have learned about school from my most epic son...
1) Kids want to know what the point is of the work they are doing in school. They need to be able to answer the following questions as it relates to their learning... What are you learning? Why are you learning it? (Thank you Joe for sharing these questions with me). Learning and teaching shouldn't be shrouded in mystery! We need to be explicit and clear with our kids. Paul will often say... "Dad, I am not sure what the point of school is!"
2) Whatever is being taught in school should matter to kids and help empower them with some type of knowledge that will contribute positively to their lives. Knowledge is power but only if our kids understand the value of said knowledge. Paul is developing a whole skill set outside of school that he sees as more valuable than what he is learning school - that has to change!
3) Something changes around 3rd grade... and the change isn't necessarily good. Paul said school was fun up until that point but then something changed and school became more about busy work and "getting through the curriculum" (his words). Learning and fun used to be synonymous but by fourth grade they became two separate and not necessarily equal things within school!
4) Kids want to feel loved, valued, safe and respected within the context of their schools and that comes as a result of investing time in healthy and positive relationships. The teachers who Paul qualifies as his "favorites" are the ones who took the time to get to know him as a person... not just as a learner!
5) Our kids come to school with a lot of knowledge, experiences and abilities - let's access those and give our children opportunities to be lead learners in school each and every day. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with information... they are forever evolving, growing and learning - let's capitalize on that reality. Paul always talks about the experiences in school when he got to share his passions and interests with classmates because his teachers saw them as valuable.
6) Kids need time to socialize in school because they learn a lot through these interactions. Paul often talks about conversations he had with friends and what he took away from these exchanges. He also shared how much he loves sitting in groups because if he doesn't understand something, he can ask a classmate. Socialization isn't only about discussing the latest Minecraft update but it's also an opportunity to learn from peers. So, no more desks and rows - let kids sit together so they can learn.
7) Kids, even in MS and HS, love lunch and even some recess! Our children need unstructured time to talk, laugh, play, decompress and have fun! Paul may not recall much from his school day but he can always give me a play by play of lunch and recess. So, NO MORE silent lunches! NO MORE taking away recess as a consequence (unless something happened at recess)! Let kids talk (maybe even loudly) and have fun!
8) Sometimes just using technology in place of a worksheet is totally fine because the device itself makes the activity more fun. Yes, we want meaningful technology integration (check out the SAMR model if you must) that pushes our children to further develop 21st century skills but sometimes, the device in itself is enough. Paul raves about the school days where he has access to technology, even if it is not in the most meaningful way.
9) Worksheets with "fill in the blanks" or an infinite number of math problems are not fun and are generally not necessary. Our children can show us their understandings in so many other ways and often times, all worksheets do is decontextualize the learning and reduce it to mindless guessing. Our kids deserve better - let's push them to access their critical thinking skills with less worksheets and more open ended activities. Granted, sometimes Paul prefers a worksheet because they are easy and don't challenge him to think but that is not ok - our kids deserve more!
10) Opportunities to innovate, create and pursue passions within school need to be the norm, not the exception. We have to build the curriculum around these ways of thinking - not try and force them into the curriculum we have so carefully planned in advance. We need to give our students (and teachers) the space to collaboratively solve problems and create their ideal learning environment - these are at the core of a space that values and appreciates innovation (thank you George for helping me develop my innovator's mindset).
11) HW stinks... it is that simple and it is the one thing I have heard consistently from Paul. HW is meaningless, useless, and doesn't necessarily help our kids learn anything better. In fact HW takes up time when our kids just want to unwind after school, spend time with family and friends and pursue their personal passions!
Of course, Paul has taught me a lot more about life over the last 11 years but these are the lessons about school that stood out. These lessons are the ones that guide my daily work as an educator and often inspire me to create an amazing space for kids here at Cantiague. I share this list in the hopes that other educators will join me on this journey where student voice is heard and changing the narrative of public education is the goal!
Will you join me?