Ten bits of wisdom to help educators and parents recognize that the problems on the quiz last Friday or the projections about term grades are vital, but so is the larger concept of proportion, which will support that architecture unit across the hall in history or friendship triangles.
by Todd R. Nelson
Regular to the Gazette
December 1, 2008
A number of years ago, when I worked as the head of a middle school in Chicago, I asked the teachers to share what they had talked about with parents at the recent mid-term conferences. My question generated an interesting list, one which I’ve thought about often, as both teacher and parent, and come to respect as pretty intelligent street-level points of view--useful in the classroom, and useful at home. In fact, they are interesting to look at from almost any moment in the school year—the start of school, when kids are facing new teachers, new studies, new friends, and unfamiliar challenges, as are their parents!—as well as medial and final moments when students have truly "become" the level of their current grade and might be turning their gaze to the next one ahead. It’s right about now, at this point in the year, that most kids fully inhabit, say, seventh gradeness. And perhaps their teachers feel that they are fully inhabiting seventh grade teacherness!
So, as we stand here on the verge of that new "habitation," I think it’s interesting to think about the following ten things and how they moderate and influence our common goals. See what you think.
My colleagues wrote:
The majority of kids can take charge of their own learning—if we allow them to do so. Don’t overteach, or overparent. Give them time and space to take charge and they’ll be more resilient and competent for it.
Children should feel rewarded by learning itself. External rewards to stimulate good grades thwart feeling long-term joy and power as the result of hard work and accomplishment.
The eye of the beholder.... Kids see things from a kid’s point of view. Parents and teachers should be journalists: get several sources for objectivity and accuracy when kids report on their school day. And “the story” keeps evolving long after “publication.”
The mother of invention. Focus on good grades alone loses sight of the great positive potential in deciphering a low grade. Failure can be far more instructive than success. Deep learning takes place out of reach of what a grade can ever measure.
Collaboration. Crucial life skills come from the struggle implicit in working with others, and wrestling with unfamiliar challenges. Adults want to spare kids discomfort. Better to welcome discomfort and help to guide them out of their discomfort zone!
“Little by little the bird makes his nest,” as the saying goes. Today’s lesson builds toward future lessons and accomplishments. Wise, steady, daily challenges are the golden thread of progressive education.
Character. There are no assurances about the exact skills necessary for life in the future. To be forward-looking, teachers must prioritize the concepts that are guaranteed to be at the heart of unforeseeable futures: improvisation, comfort with chaos, skilled questioning, integrity, and ethical character.
Balance. Kids need help balancing priorities. Piano lessons getting in the way of homework, or homework getting in the way of piano lessons? Both might be reasonable conclusions... depending on the child.
Coach, don't cushion, during homework time. Bring problems and questions back to school. Don't deny the teacher the chance to understand how a kid experiences their homework—especially if hit the wall and they can't do the work.
Don't miss school. Work can be made up, but not the contact, texture, and experiences of school.
I’ve come to feel that this list does a good job of encapsulating the deeper equations for learning, fulfillment, happiness, hopeful lives, and resiliency. The problems on the quiz last Friday or the projections about term grades are vital, but so is the larger concept of proportion, which will support that architecture unit across the hall in history or friendship triangles.
Parents and teachers share the vision and guardianship of long-term learning as well as its daily tasks. It’s the primary partnership for raising effective and resilient kids.
Todd R. Nelson has been a public and private school English teacher and administrator for 29 years, in schools in Cambridge, San Francisco, Chicago and Maine. He is principal at the Adams School in Castine, Maine, a 54 student K-8 school on the town common in a little town on the coast, where he gets to play four-square at recess, play his bagpipes, and write musicals for the all-school play.