When students are invited to our Community Forum, the students inevitably become the stars of the event. Take for instance last week’s final community forum of the current school year. Also attending was Education Consultant Bruce Wellman, and it was wonderful to work with him on this project. The question we asked students, parents, teachers and administrators was, “What does the class of 2022 need to succeed?” The conversation focussed around the necessary changes, and roles each person would have to help move our system to the system we want for 2022. To encourage open discussion, we set up mixed tables of students, teachers, parents, trustees and others in the community and the interaction, the observations and the insights that emerged from that mix were telling. The input from the students was particularly powerful.
A sample of some of the “takeaways” that participants left with included:
- The importance of trust in the process of collaboration between teacher, student, and parent and the need to value everyone’s input
- “Personalized” does not mean customized all the time — it is about the “human” in there
- Be prepared to take risks and try something new
- We need to build urgency into the system. We (our kids) can’t wait
- We have to figure out how to communicate in ways students, parents and educators are on the same page
- Parents need to be “involved” in some very different ways
- We are talking about how things will be different some time from now, but what about changing something now? (Grade 5 student)
Here is one particularly thoughtful extended reflection from Jane, one of the local students who participated in the forum:
Tonight was the night of the Community Forum “What Does the Class of 2022 Need to Succeed?” hosted at Rockridge Secondary School where teachers, parents and students were invited to discuss the aforementioned topic and explore ideas such as how students will own their learning, how parents can support this learning and what teachers will do to guide this learning.
This opportunity was first presented to me by my challenge teacher, Lynn Chartres, in an email explaining the purpose of the forum and how students were being invited to participate and that I was one of those chosen students. Eager to attend a meeting of such sorts, I happily complied.
I happen to be particularly enthusiastic about events such as these where students are allowed to take part in these collaborations because I really feel that we have a lot of valuable ideas about topics such as this. I mean we are the third link in the chain, and I personally think that we as students have both a lot of experience and a lot of opinions about our education system, but most importantly, we take pride in our education and have a lot of ideas about what we can do to strengthen our system. We are the ones that are being taught after all!
This brings me to my next point: how students will own their learning. And it is so vitally important that we do, for we do not all learn the same way and our strengths as individuals all lie in different places. I believe that it is the shared responsibility of the teacher, the student and the parent to help students explore that place and learn how to use the talents stored there to become a successful student and a successful individual. However, we cannot be expected to fully embrace ourselves as passionate, knowledgeable learners if we are not given the tools and the inspiration to go the lengths it takes to get there. Yet I am proud that I can say that we are taking action and that we are part of a healthy and dedicated educational system.
Furthermore, another key aspect is how parents can support this learning process. One of the important points that came up in conversation was that parents, especially in our society, need to give their children “breathing space” and recognize where to draw the line when supporting their children with school. To learn, you need to makes mistakes and we need to be able to make our own mistakes. By over-protecting a child, you’re only really going to end up causing them harm in the end. If every step we take is monitored and calculated so that we can’t possibly end up treading off the path leading us to what is seen as “ultimate success,” then we ourselves will be unsuccessful as we will have no experience with the difficulties and conflicts that will arise in our adult life. What I believe parents can do to be as constructive in their child’s life as possible, is simply ask intuitive and stimulating questions about what their child has been learning and discuss what they too have been learning as an adult, then finding links between themselves, their child and the world around them. This adds to the idea of holding on to the “dinner table ritual” and engaging the family in routine conversations – whether or not they be at the dinner table – that provide everyone with a chance to reflect upon what they learned that day and share newly formulated thoughts and ideas together. It’s a process that everyone gains something from.
My final point is – what will teachers do to guide this learning? With changing times come advances in modern technology, different forms of communication and a shift in the values that we honour as a society. And with such rapid, extraordinary change and overload of constantly expanding information at our fingertips, it is difficult to stay grounded. As we change and move forward, our school system must evolve and adapt to the changes that are taking place. We must discover new ways of teaching a complex and technologically centred generation of young minds, while remaining true to the educational values that have been passed down to us by our predecessors. And, although I agree that it has come time to let go of our old traditions and teaching methods so that we can embrace the new generation of modern education, we mustn’t entirely disregard the ways of the past. Our old traditions gave us structure and form; something to hold onto that was unchanging and, although the time for those ways has ended, they should be always be remembered, honoured and respected.
Additionally, I feel that this “new era of education” encourages collaborative teaching methods that allow the teachers to share some of the power with their students and inspire creative and individual thinking. It is not reasonable in this day and age to simply tell students what they need to learn, what to do, how to do it and leave it at that. With that “one-size-fits-all” method of teaching, how would a group of entirely different learners and thinkers be expected to function? It is imperative that students have a chance to take in information, process it and then demonstrate their knowledge in their own, distinctive way. When given knowledge, one is given power and when the creativity and unique minds of a student come into the equation brilliant things occur. It is just a matter of providing an inspiring and passionate learning environment.
Overall, the questions that challenged how students will own their learning, how parents will support this learning and how teachers will guide this learning sparked a multitude of intuitive and innovative ideas that allowed the topic “What Does the Class of 2022 Need to Succeed?” to be analyzed and from a variety of viewpoints that lead everyone to better understand the original topic.
We are continuing to have great conversations as we help our system evolve, trying to follow the advice of Daniel Pink, “Talk less, listen more.”