All of these things, plus probably some others I'm forgetting at the moment, have really centered around the idea of student growth, not just in the narrow sense of academic achievement (although that is certainly a big part of it), but also in terms of personal and emotional growth. I've heard more teachers having more discussions about students, and what they need (as opposed to conversations simply about curriculum or standards - although those are of course still happening as well), in the last month or so than I have in a long time. If I had to give an overall label to the discussions, it would have to be "student-centered." We really are talking about trying to make our school, our classrooms, our selves more student-centered.
Which is why it was so incredibly disappointing to hear what apparently happened at our Department Chair meeting this week ("apparently" because I am not a Department Chair so was not there). (Department Chair is a group of all of our Department Chairs that meets every other week with an agenda set by administration.) This week the idea was suggested that before we schedule for next year, we perhaps should do a pre-registration with students to gauge their interest in certain courses. That's easy enough to do, just have students enter in their requests online and then look at the results, the idea being that we could perhaps tweak our Master Schedule a bit based on student interest.
This suggestion was apparently met with tremendous resistance and immediately crushed. The concern seemed to be that if we ask the students what they want, they might tell us. Perhaps that's not a fair characterization, but from what I've heard that's seems like what it boils down to.
"What if students request 10 sections-worth ofWell, what if? It's amazing how much this parallels the discussions I've participated in with Seniors in Government class about school and education, and are there any ways to improve the system we have. They always start out agreeing that school should be about learning and that they think we do a pretty good job at this, but a significant number of them end up agreeing that much of our system is actually not designed with learning - or their specific needs - in mind. Almost always, partway through the discussion, a student will say something like, "Well, if we let kids choose their own classes, they'd take the "easy" way out and take a bunch of Art classes." (To be fair, sometimes it's "PE".) After much discussion about what "easy" and "important" and "core" mean, and then pointing out that if we didn't have grades how would they determine what "easy" meant, the discussion starts to get really going. (And then the bell rings. But I digress.)
Now, let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that my school should immediately ditch all of our course offerings and just let the students do whatever they want. (However, to be just as clear, my "big ideas" series this summer shows that I don't think that's an entirely bad idea, just not what I'm suggesting we as a school do right now.) What I am suggesting is that perhaps we should at least consider our students' interests before building our master schedule, and we can perhaps make some small adjustments that would at least nudge us in a more student-centered direction, even if we still have a fairly rigid curriculum with many required classes. If a bunch of students indicate an interest in a particular Art class, or Law, or Woods, or even Computer Science (hey, a guy can dream), shouldn't we at least consider meeting them part way?
This doesn't mean getting rid of Algebra, Biology or American Lit. (Although, again, I think that's worth some discussion - after all, we teach students subjects, not just subjects). But it does mean acknowledging that our students are real, live human beings, with real, live interests, preferences and needs, and that they should have some say over what they get to learn. More say then simply getting to choose from a pre-determined set of courses and electives that are offered at pre-determined times, meaning they may or may not be able to get in to their top choices, and those from a list of choices they didn't even help create.
I think it comes down to this. We are either going to be student-centered, or we're not. We can't say in one context that we want to be more student-centered, but in another context (one that perhaps challenges our view of what school looks like as well as challenging what we "like" to teach) say, "Nah, just kidding." That doesn't mean throwing everything out and letting it be a free-for-all, but it does mean being open-minded enough to listen to our students, carefully consider what they have to say, and then making a well-thought-out decision about any changes we might want to make.
Perhaps as a building we need to go back and review our own mindsets to see if we truly are willing to grow. If we want to be more student-centered, we're going to have to let go of some of our own teacher-centered beliefs.