“From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning at school.” – John Dewey
During my visits to elementary schools in our district I am intrigued by the conversations of our professional staff around the needs of children and the instructional strategies we select in response to our discussions. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a school in Calgary that has adopted a Reggio influenced approach to the organization of their school. Their primary discussions prior to curriculum selection, class organizations and teacher assignment involve a deep conversation on their “Image of the Child” and the developmental needs of the children in their care. Each of us as individuals and as staffs carefully consider the needs of children prior to making professional decisions or judgments.
When Stephen Sroka talks about what students need or want from today’s schools, he doesn’t just read from prepared notes. Instead, he brings the student voice to us for examination. During the closing general session of ASCD’s 2005 Conference on Teaching and Learning in San Francisco, Sroka organized a panel of student experts to answer questions about the kind of schools they want to go to and identified their amalgam of the most desirable teacher qualities. Here’s what they had to say.
What Makes a School a Safe and Healthy Place?
• Supportive teachers that students can connect with. Teachers who know who you are and can relate to your needs.
• Being free to speak your mind and being respected
• Knowing you’re there to learn and there are no outside or internal threats.
What are the Qualities of Effective Teachers? What kinds of Teachers Make the Classroom come Alive?
• They are non-judgemental, They let kids know their opinions are welcomed and respected.
• They are outgoing, understanding, and unintimidating. You can confide in them.
• They care. They have a passion for the content and the students they teach. They don’t just say, “It’s in the book.”
What Problems Would you Remove from your School?
• Dispassionalte teachers and students
• Testing as a way of ranking students
What top Qualities would you want in your School?
• Positive discipline
• A clean, safe and welcoming environment
• Teaching for understanding
• Emotionally nurturing, quality teachers (with a sense of humour)
• Creativity that is valued and encouraged
The conversation with Sroka’s student experts embodied a spirit of teaching and learning that addresses the whole child. Putting these students at the centre of instructional policy and practice begins by listening to the needs of today’s K-12 scholars. We have heard from our Coquitlam students through their “World Café” on the future of education, on the design panels for new buildings and the ongoing voices of students involved in the School completion and Beyond projects. Whether we are discussing an emergent curriculum, the requisite components of 21st century learning, or most importantly what will be the pillars of “Personalizing Learning”, student voices must be an equal part of our individual and collective educational decision making.
“We learn and grow and are transformed mot so much by what we do but by why and how we do it. Each decision we make, each action we take, is born out of an intention.” – Sharon Salzberg