In the past, both the responsibility for learning and classroom control rested squarely on the shoulders of the teacher. If your students were loud and misbehaving, or if they failed a standardized test, you were not only held responsible for it in a figurative sense. Instead, you could lose your job or bring home a much smaller paycheck as some sort of punitive punishment system.
And unfortunately, there are still some districts and states in the “dark ages” of education that think this is a good choice.
We’d have to disagree - in case you’re wondering.
That kind of fear-mongering, threatening teachers and students with “the students will all learn, or else” is at the very least unhealthy, and quite possibly toxic for a learning environment. Threatening people to learn is an idea that should have died a long time ago.
What we’re about to suggest is hard. We can acknowledge that. And it will take a degree of self-sacrifice and may be pretty uncomfortable, but this is something many of our reformation leaders have in common. We know that educators are capable of doing these things, so don’t throw in the towel before you take a dip in the pool, so to speak.
After all, the only way to do something new is to begin by understanding that what you’ve been doing that’s old and outdated.
Every teacher would love for their students to enjoy learning and be curious, wouldn’t we? And yet, there are so many things we do to squash any hint of that joy and curiosity.
For example, one education consultant and futurist, David Thornburg, who has inspired schools like Wooranna Park Primary, has said that we spend too much time asking and answering our own questions. One way to immediately engage students is to ask questions and refuse to supply the answers.
In lecturing, we supply everything a student needs to know.
We’ve done all the fun parts!
Everyone knows you know the answers. You aren’t the one taking the tests anymore. You should definitely be a content expert, but the way we use that tool is backward.
Rather than spouting out all our content knowledge, we should be giving students problems to solve, and questions to answer, and creating situations in which they can only get to those answers by traveling through a bunch of other pertinent information.
Learning needs to be less of a diner that serves meals that literally no one has ever asked for, shoving it down the throats of students eight or more hours a day, five to seven days of the week (all the homework counts as take-home boxes).
Instead, we should be food trucks. They have to work to find us, and they should have to go on scavenger hunts to gather all the ingredients they need for a meal. We’ll provide the recipe, but we should be a d.i.y. meal station.
Teachers are no longer useful as dispensaries of information. That time is over and gone. We should be giving students the tools to dig out and discover information for themselves.
And we are also responsible for providing experiences that make them interested in knowing more. That is who we are - the providers of the spark that will ignite the flame of eternal curiosity.
The same is true of classroom management. The goal of education should have never been “sit and get”, but it’s more inappropriate now than it ever has been before. We’re sending students out into the world with no tools, no information, and no way to find information on their own. That’s a disservice.
The only thing they truly know how to do is raise their hands to get permission to speak and go to the bathroom. How is that helpful?
In the revolution, we will all be active participants in the art of learning collectively.
That won’t always look perfect. You’re going to have some messy days, and some pencils and crayons are going to get broken, but the students will be learning.
Which is, many might argue, precisely the point.
Part of relinquishing that control is to tell students what you want them to do.
It shouldn’t have to be said as many times as it is, but many educators still don’t understand this concept.
You cannot control anyone but yourself. None of us can. But you are able to communicate what you expect and what you need in order to provide a good, highly-functioning learning environment for your students.
Students need you to tell them directly, concisely, and without any sort of manipulation what your expectations are. They need that conveyed multiple times each year, and they will always need that. Teach them how to treat you, your communal spaces, and each other.
Define your requirements, stay consistent, and expect your students to do the same for you.
In order to stop playing tug-of-war of control with students, one of you needs to let go of the rope and walk away. Chances are pretty good that person who walks away won’t be a child. It has to be you.
Stop fighting with children over control of the classroom. You are in charge of certain things, and they are in charge of others. If everyone knows and understands that they are a vital, important part of the complex puzzle of a group learning experience that is both cooperative and individual simultaneously, you’ll have a lot less “fighting” and a lot more learning going on.
And while we are on the subject, stop calling the classroom “yours”. It belongs to everyone. You might keep your purse or pictures of family members there, but if you plan to be successful, you need to share that space in all ways both literal and figurative. If you can’t give students ownership of the space and their own learning and knowledge, you’re in the wrong business.
Finally, another thing we’ve noticed about these leading schools is that they, on the whole, do not offer bribes or punishments.
Replacing Bribery with the Self-Gratification of Learning and Knowledge
There are no treasure boxes filled with Oriental Trading toys that break before they get home, no paddlings, and no “ice cream Fridays” for good grades.
Learning, knowledge, a safe place to belong and grow, curiosity, and tools to discover are more important than a plastic fish or even a car.
That’s not to say you can’t recognize and reward great grades, behavior, or good citizenship, but the gratification that can only be won through hard work, perseverance, curiosity, and a desire to know more about the world around you can never be replaced with tangible things.
Even the very young can understand this. Don’t replace that deep, intrinsic motivation with something cheap, plastic, and terribly temporary. Give students access to things that will last a lifetime.