Their vision of school

We are trying to develop a new vision for the school.  My principal put out a survey asking for our opinion, but I realized that I couldn’t make an informed response until I had talked to the most important part of the school:  my students.  So, I tweeted out the question yesterday and followed it up with a polleverywhere.com question. Here are the most common responses:

  1. More and better technology–this makes a lot of sense when our laptop carts are over 5 years old and the classroom desktops are older than that.  Plus, these teens don’t know a world without computers or the Internet so technology really needs to be part of everything they do.
  2. Classes focused on specific careers–you would think this would come from my Honors students, but just as many of the College Prep students wanted this.  They said they are tired of taking classes that never seem to help them get any better as students and want classes based around their interests.  Having started my career in a Magnet school, I completely agree with them.  I feel the school-within-a-school or academy model is something that traditional public schools need to investigate and embrace.  If a student wants to be a doctor, they should take classes focused on medicine.  If someone wants to pursue business, why shouldn’t they be allowed to take management, finance and entrepreneur classes?
  3. Hire better teachers–I don’t encourage students to talk badly about other staff members, but sometimes they need an outlet.  Some of the stories they told me made me cringe and I don’t believe it is appropriate to share them here.  However, the class that really focused in on this came up with a list of qualities that they feel every great teacher should have.
    1. Enthusiasm–get excited about what you are teaching no matter how boring it is
    2. Content experts–or at least have confidence that you know what you are talking about
    3. Classroom presence–be the mayor. Move around, talk to everyone, demonstrate control
    4. Outgoing–get away from the desk and get in with the students
    5. Have fun–enjoy what you do
    6. Involve the class in the lesson–even during lecture remember they are more than just note takers
    7. Class plan–don’t wing it and if you do, make it look convincing
    8. Clever–be able to think on your feet and develop innovative ideas
    9. Classroom management–both enforcement of rules and keep control of the class
    10. Treat students as equals–never talk down to them
    11. Be open to criticism–and don’t attack students who try to offer it
What I found the most surprising was the lack of a specific comment.  Not a single person said “less homework” or “fewer tests.”  They always seem to complain about the amount of work they get, but no one really wanted that to change.  Maybe it wasn’t at the front of their mind because they were focused on instruction and assessment is usually not seen as a form of instruction.
No matter what, this little exercise demonstrates clearly that when developing a vision for a school, it is absolutely imperative that you review the comments of every part of the school community.  Students want to know their opinions matter.  Give them a say in how the school and I am sure the school will be a better place for it.
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