Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Ideal Student-Centric School

When thinking about creating a school of my own, I would definitely want it to be a student-centric school.  I think that politics plays too much of a role in education and is ultimately what has made education a value-chain business rather than a facilitated user network.  It has been the case that popular thinking in education is that standardization is what is going to make our country ultimately successful, but what we are finding is that is not the case at all.  Our students are not becoming more successful than they were, I would even argue that they are even less successful with the educational system we have developed around standardization.  Change in the education system is complicated because it is an interdependent system and it is very costly to make changes.

However, in the perfect world, where I get to create a student-centric school without worrying about politics or funding, there are many things that I would do.  First of all, there would be no standardized tests, so this eliminates the existing restrictions that are placed on textbooks and technology programs utilized in the classroom.  This school would focus on the students and their needs, and a step in the right direction in this aspect is to develop IEPs for every student.  I believe we need to get past the idea that only certain students (i.e. students with special needs or English Language Learners) need specialized instruction.  All students learn differently and have different strengths and weaknesses and all of this needs to be taken into consideration when developing curriculum and planning instruction.  I believe that a project-based approach is a great way to start in a student-centric school, because this type of program really taps into the students’ interests.  Engagement and motivation are two really huge factors when developing a program, because without one or the other, any other changes you make don’t really matter.  Aside from engagement and motivation, as educators we really need to get to know our students; their culture, their home life, their beliefs, their strengths and weaknesses, their learning styles, their support system, etc.  It’s knowing all of these things that will give us the tools that we need to help them grow as learners.  I think that teacher training should be focused on how to reach our students, how to develop our pedagogy so that we can reach all learners and foster their growth.  I think a huge aspect of teacher training should be in using technology as a tool to aide in growing our learners.  Technology is a huge part of the 21st century skills our students should have, and if teachers aren’t educated in how to properly use it in the classroom then students will not grow the digital skills necessary to compete in our world.  Teachers should also be educated in 21st century skills so they can better impart those skills to their students, so the students can become 21st century literate. 

To be completely honest, there will be no textbooks in my student-centric school.  As Johnson pointed out in his book, trying to develop a textbook that addresses all students’ learning styles would not only be extremely expensive, but the textbook would be so massive that it would become too inconvenient and defeat its purpose.  The key in my student-centric school is that it’s about the students and what they are interested in and how they learn.  This could not be fulfilled by a standardized textbook.  Teachers need to get materials and information based on students learning styles and interests.  A huge resource in this area is technology.  Not only can teachers find resources on the internet, but they can use networking with other educators (through twitter, for example) to get ideas as well.  Not only can teachers themselves use technology, but technology itself can be the “textbook”.  Students can use technology to gather resources, evaluate information, explore, produce material, and create.  I think that having standards is a good idea, because they give a framework of what students should know and by when (so they are not learning the same things over and over every year, there needs to be a basic framework to run off of, but the teacher should have a lot more flexibility than currently given).  Based on this framework, teachers can find their own resources, develop curriculum, and use technology to reach all students’ learning needs.

This is an environment in which I would like to work.  The thought of not only having my own thoughts and ideas valued, but more importantly students’ thoughts and ideas are valued sounds heavenly.  A place in which there were no boundaries to learning and no one shoving standardized tests down our throats is the ideal environment for our students to succeed.  I don’t know if it’s possible to have free public education without politics, but it would be nice if we could find a way to reform with our STUDENTS’ NEEDS as the basis, not political agendas.

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