9460984891_1975e74d71_nAs a school administrator, I have spent a lot of time considering the knowledge, and skills, that I hope (and need) our students to develop during their time in our junior high school.  The sad thing is that, as much as I would like to say it isn’t, high-stakes testing is a factor in my deliberations.  Financial considerations, community perceptions, and teacher accountability necessitate attention to what students will need in order perform well on state standardized tests.  Unfortunately, I can’t just thumb my nose at testing.

However, as a parent, I could care less about high stakes testing, test prep, or test taking skills.  In fact, I resent my daughter’s missed opportunities that are a result of the pressure schools feel to prepare for state exams.  For example, she has not had an actual art class in her entire elementary school career.  In addition, time in classes like physical education, and music, are dramatically reduced to give more time to core content — not because of perceived value, but because those subjects are tested.

So, for a moment, I am going to set aside my thoughts as a school administrator, and let you know what I wish MY DAUGHTER’S education would emphasize.

  1. Thinking – That sounds terribly generic, but I don’t think that’s a given in our schools these days.  I don’t want her to memorize, I want her to “turn on” her brain, and really think, problem solve, and apply learning in relevant activities.  Real “thinking” isn’t necessarily supported by test prep.
  2. Empathy - I want my daughter to understand that everyone faces unique circumstances, and I want her to be able to put herself in their shoes.  As a famous quote, often attributed to Plato (but likely not his quote), indicates, I want her to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
  3. Purpose - From a parents perspective, our kids are asked to do too many things that lack a clear purpose.  Boring worksheets.  Too many math problems.  Busy work.  I want my daughter to feel like the work she is asked to do is meaningful, and that she has an audience that extends beyond her teacher, and her parents.
  4. Creativity - It’s hard to foster creativity in schools when students are not given choices.  I want my daughter to be able to pursue things that interest her, to participate in activities that require imagination, to be physically active, and to develop an appreciation for arts and music (see, Is Music the Key to Success).
  5. Difference Making - Little things can make a big difference.  School should provide opportunities for students to be difference makers — with peers, the community, and the world.  We shouldn’t talk to kids about doing great things “when they grow up,” but we should give them every opportunity to do great things now.  I want my daughter to know that she makes a difference — that she matters.

As a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure I support my daughter’s development of these “soft” skills, but I do wish our education system paid less attention to testing, and placed more of an emphasis on cross curricular competencies, and social good.

Shouldn’t my actions as an educator support my parental vision of what eduction should provide for my daughter?  Perhaps it is time to begin thumbing my nose.

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  • Vicki Sullivan

    Jeff, you’ve voiced a concern I share as we’ll. What I’d really like to do is find a way to influence educational systems to acknowledge the whole child. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  • Renee Boss

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I, too, share this concern and hope that my children will have experiences beyond test prep. As an educator as well, I understand the pressures we all face, but I can’t come to grips with the emphasis on test prep to the detriment of art, music, PE, empathy, purpose, thinking–as you say. How can we collaborate to shift the focus?

  • buistbunch

    Great list. Every teacher who has a child in public education needs to read and live this. By the way, we might be able to find some room for your daughter at Knox Gifted Academy. I know people.

  • http://www.angelamaiers.com AngelaMaiers

    Beautifully said! My only wonder is why you/we feel the need to see or set these critical accomplishments and goals “aside” as teachers, administrators and most importantly students. If schools is not for this; then what is it for? (I am speaking globally and pondering the same question myself.)

    • azjd

      Hey Angela,

      I don’t think we need (or should) set these goals/skills aside. Schools should definitely play a role in this process. I guess I feel like our system needs to do a better job of valuing activities that build these skills. At some point, I do believe (as educators) we are going to have to stand up to some of the nonsense that gets in the way of schools, and teachers, being able to do what is best for kids. I am somewhat ashamed to say that I am part of the problem — accountability measures definitely play a role in my decision making as an administrator. All that being said, each one of us does have the ability to impact student development of these skills through teaching, modeling, and as you well know, letting students know “they matter.” We are far from powerless.

      Thank you for taking time to read and comment. Truly appreciated!

      • http://www.angelamaiers.com AngelaMaiers

        Well put Jeff! I so struggle that we even have to consider this to be an either or. We need to keep the fight alive for AND! On a separate note–so pumped to try blogging with Postach.io Can’t wait to dig into this!!!

  • Colby Ronald Griffin

    Hey Jeff, It’s Colby from the University of South Alabama again! Once more I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Being in the position that you are in provides a unique and interesting perspective. Further sparking my interest is the fact that I will be in a similar situation when I start teaching. Although I agree that all five things you listed are important (and wanted for my future school bound children), I would like to briefly comment about thinking, empathy and creativity.

    I have personally found thinking in school has in many situations become an empty shell of what it should be. I think a lot of that comes from endless testing, as you mentioned. I feel like one’s ability to critically think puts them leaps and bounds over someone who can’t. A perfect example of this would be one of the points you made in problem solving. How can one solve any difficult problem without being able to adequately think about what is happening? Is it even possible to be successful in life without a certain level of thinking? If education is to prepare students to be successful in life, critical thinking has to be the lifeblood. Major components of being able to critically think are creativity and empathy. Having the perspective to put one’s self in another’s shoes immediately expands their thinking mind, and the addition of creativity only pushes the boundaries even further. Being able to tag team these concepts for children at home and at school is definitely the ideal situation. Also, being able to take these things into the real world, in my view, can only be a catalyst for success. Thanks again for your thoughts. I am always eager to soak up knowledge from one with experience.

    • azjd

      Thanks for commenting Colby.
      As educators, we have MANY opportunities to provide authentic learning, and problem solving, opportunities for our students. It is unfortunate that testing and accountability measures frequently get in the way. However, I would tend to say that if we push critical thinking, creativity, etc., our kids will likely do okay on standardized tests. A risk we should probably be willing to take.

      Good luck with your studies!

  • David Hochheiser

    All of these are good, but I love the “difference making” piece. That will mandate creativity and long-term planning to play a prominent role in unit plans and assessment. Great thought.

    • azjd

      Thanks David. I think we often imply to students that they will be able to make a difference “when they grow up.” Truth is, they can, and should be difference makers now.

      Appreciate the comment!

  • Jamie Grierson

    I really enjoyed this post and it was very thoughtful of you. I hope all of these things for my future children and even my future students. I loved the last one, difference making. I agree that children can start making a difference right now in their lives.

  • Frank Shimandle

    As a parent, teacher, and possibly an administrator one day, I enjoyed reading this perspective. Like many who have commented on this post, I too concur with the importance of your “difference making” thought however, I actually teach a lesson to my students on your third wish of “purpose”. The lesson focuses on leadership, yes, leadership. That’s what I teach, well, actually it is the Army Junior Reserve Officer Corps (JROTC) curriculum. Many who don’t understand our curriculum wrongly assume we are about the military and enlisting kids. Absolutely not. Our simple mission is to “Motivate young people to become better citizens.” That’s it, make them better. So, we have a leadership lesson that talks to the point of what a good leader does or should do. Simply put, good leaders provide their group with “purpose,” “direction” and “motivation.” As for purpose – it is the “why” we do things. As you stated, work should be meaningful. If, we, as educators, fail to explain, or worse, cannot explain, why something is relevant, then it may become irrelevant. If any, and all leaders (teachers too), would do this three things faithfully then we may make a marked difference in the success of groups and individuals.

    Your closing question is a great one and it leads me to ask you, how do you plan to “share”
    this wish of yours with those in your building?

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