What Kids need from School

Today seems to hold an above average number of posts, comments, blogs, and opinions about what kids need from school. I’ve read many of these items today, ranging from “Kids need to understand budgets” to “Kids can’t meet due dates any more”.

Some of these items are aimed at teachers, some at students, some at millennials, and others at parents who have raised the current students or the millennials, finally there are also pieces expressed by teachers. They all boil down to “I think kids need X” where “X” is just something the speaker is good at or does for a living… or reflect “the way school used to be”

What very few of these pieces take into account is what the kid needs. This seems silly, I know you all think you are looking out for the kid when you say “kids need to know budgets” and “kids need to respect due dates” and “Kids need to know about business” and “kids need to experience consequences” and “kids need to learn trades” and “kids need study skills”. But very few of you are taking a few very important things into account.

1) Context: I will use the example of Budgets. A human who does not have an income is incapable of understanding budgets. Outside of the context of having real income, learning about budgets is academic. its just an idea, as easily forgotten as physics. Many of the things that end up haunting us as adults were actually taught to us (see the Grade 10 math curriculum in NB, its about budgeting) but it was taught without being experienced so we lost it.

2) The world is changing: The good old days are gone. Work places are very different. Entrepreneurship is becoming a necessity, not an option. Solving problems, in a tangible sense, not in an Academic Math sense, is increasingly in demand, creativity is no longer a skill reserved for artists.

In this world Due Dates, and Routine are not as important as they used to be, especially when the routines and due dates we are subjecting students to are no longer relevant to the work world, or home life.

3) Kids need skills and self discovery: Knowledge may be power. But it is also cheap right now. So rather than knowledge based assignments, and credits that show what classes have been completed our students need soft skills that allow them to achieve, learn, and operate on their own, outside of teacher, boss, parent influence. In a world where careers change constantly in one persons life, and where there are jobs, and home situations occurring, that did not exist previously, and are impossible to predict, we need to have kids direct themselves.

I only know how to be me. That is true for every adult, and in today’s world, we can no longer pretend that what we did for ourselves was A) Best and B) good for the kids as well.

Coach K

“It is very important to know who you are. To make decisions. To show who you are.”

-Malala Yousafzai

Quincy: Saying goodbye to a friend

There is a picture of me, from about 12 years ago. I am wearing my high school football jacket in this picture. Blue felt, with black leather arms. It was way too big. In this picture I am holding something. I think I can count this “something” as a “someone”. This “someone” was tiny, and smelled weird. This someone was soft and fluffy. We named him Quincy. I said goodbye to Quincy about 20 minutes ago.

Quincy was a Shi Tzu. The kind of dog my dad and I made fun of. Was he a rat? Was he a kind of weird cat? Though he was big for his breed, 24 lbs at one point, he wasn’t really what we wanted. But Shi Tzus are hypoallergenic so mom could handle it.

It is odd looking back. Dogs age the same way humans do. He was so soft. Most of his fur was white, with light brown patches. He was chubby and clumsy… he was kind of stupid too. As he lay on the table today I found it hard to stop petting him. His fur wasn’t soft any more. It was cut short, course. His skin was loose. Still clumsy though, but that is because he had been blind for 7 years.

I don’t remember much from his time as a puppy. But I do remember him when he was a bit older. I was in university and living at home. My schedule was such that I spent full days home alone with Quincy once or twice a week, depending on the semester.

I would eat pizza pockets and bacon sandwiches (because the freshman 15 just wasn’t enough for me) and I would feed him scraps as we would watch 3 hours of “Saved by the Bell” and “Boy Meets World” together. He didn’t say much, but those few years, and the years after were really important.

They weren’t important because of the normal reasons. Yes I graduated from university, twice. I started a career. I met cool people. I did cool things. But I also struggled a lot. These years were important because of failures. I hated university when I started, I realised I am not cut out to be an academic. I was lonely. I spent 6 of the last 8 years single. This was mostly by choice, but no matter how comfortable I was being on my own, there were low times. My career got off to a rocky start. My volunteer commitments fell apart. I gained weight. Relationships ended.

I never talk about those things much, I never have, and likely never will. I have moved on, grown. But I will always be thankful for one “someone” who knew exactly how I felt and didn’t care…. as long as I fed him bacon sandwiches, anyway.

I know Quincy never really knew what was going on, that I was struggling. I don’t think he would care, even if he did know. All he cared a getting scratched and bacon sandwiches.

But he would stay close even when I didn’t do those things. It was really nice. Just to have someone close  without a care in the world. Even after I moved out of my parents house I would often visit, when there were no humans home, just to say “Hi”, or to tell him what was going on, or to play and wrestle.

By the time I moved out he was blind. He went blind when I moved to Newfoundland. He fell a lot. He fell down the stairs and bumped into things but he learned to manage. For a few years we would even take him for walks while even though he couldn’t see. He still loved it.

Dogs are weird. This dog was really weird. He smelled like white cheddar flavoured pop-corn. And forgot how to poop and pee outside. He got hairballs that caused him to violently snort. He ate socks that were as long as he was, and pooped them out whole. While he was blind he was willing to run off into a forest.

One time, while I was getting ready for work, he ran away. I searched for half and hour and couldn’t find him. so I started to drive to work when I spotted him digging in a neighbours garden behind their house. When I called his name my BLIND dog SPRINTED toward me and fell head first into a ditch. Luckily I wasn’t the only one to witness this disaster, one of my students at the time saw the whole thing. I laughed, she cried.

Earlier this week, when I told my grandmother that we were saying goodbye to Quincy she asked “Do you think dogs go to doggy heaven?”. I answered “Nope” and paused…. “they go to regular heaven”… She laughed.

I know that’s only a half decent joke. I also know that some of you don’t think there is a heaven. Others would say animals don’t have souls and therefore will not being going to heaven. I am sure you have evidence for your opinions, either way.

As for me… I am pretty excited to see Quincy again.

Coach K

“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’”
—Rudyard Kipling(author, The Jungle Book)


We’ve been doing it for 30 years…

Today’s thought will be a short one. During the past school year a discussion came up in a staff meeting. During the discussion one teacher, who received quite a bit of support, stated “well, we’ve been doing it this way for 30 years so it obviously works”.

I am quite tired of this sentiment, at work and elsewhere. It’s negligent to do anything for that long. In science, medicine, parenting, business… Many things change in 30 years. New research shows us more effective ways to do things. A salesperson who doesn’t keep up with the world loses money. A doctor who treats cancer based on the research of the 80s loses more patients than doctors who are up to date. Why do we think the way we educate kids is exempt from this? Its negligent to hold onto the past while ignoring sound research about what needs to be taught and how it needs to be done.

Lets do right by our students and move on.

“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Due Dates

Due dates are important, but punishing kids for not meeting them does not improve the situation.

I give zeros in my class. Work that is not done, gets a zero. I spend time having conversations with students about follow through, reliability, meeting deadlines etc. But due dates are also flexible.

There are a few reasons that I do not take marks off for late work.

  1. Punishment doesn’t teach kids to meet due dates, it teaches them that school is about getting the work done, not actually learning. Taking marks away for late work teaches students to “just do the work”. It eliminates passion, which in today’s job market is essential, and discourages the learning process.
  2. Giving poor students early zeros means they can’t pass which means they have no reason to continue trying. Students need early wins, and meaningful relationships with teachers. The disadvantaged, intellectually weak, and students accustomed to failing need this more. If they have failed your class before these vital components have been built (because they are only capable of minimal grades even if everything is complete), they will shut down. Not to mention the behaviour nightmare a student who has not reason to try creates.
  3. Education takes time and that time is different for each student. Student learning takes time, it is a growth process, which includes the ability to meet deadlines. Some students learn that by grade 6, some by grade 12. Some never learn it. I would rather spend time conversing, finding passions, and working hard than meeting deadlines. Not to mention that every shred of education research supports the first statement in this entry. And besides that, going to school is not a job. We don’t pay them. The deadlines are fake, they aren’t missing sales, conferences, quarterly presentations, pitches, or anything else of consequence… we just made up the due date.
  4. Students lives are as busy as ours. Sports, music, family commitments, friends, etc. all drain students time… just like they drain ours. All but a very few of my work due dates are set in stone. I meet requirements as my schedule allows. I can decide when i meet my goals. I prioritise some of those above my interests. Some I prioritise below my interests. I would rather have that conversation with a student, which is much more meaningful than the constant conversation of “Is your work done yet… it’s due tomorrow”. Not to mention most of us do not tolerate consistent “homework”, weekly/daily hard-line due dates, and a complete lack of control in every aspect of our lives.
  5. In real life there are due dates, and then there are due dates. We all have deadlines that absolutely must be met. We all have due dates that we want to meet. We all have due dates that someone else tells us they want us to meet. And we have to prioritise them. I decide which ones I care about. No one gets to force me into meeting the vast majority of deadlines. I either set the deadlines for myself, or consult with those around me, and above me, about realistic timelines that also meet requirements. We can’t set every single deadline, then pretend each and every one is important, especially considering their busy schedules, personal priorities and the fact that each class in school is not of equal importance to every individual.
  6. A catch all solution never works. Each student has different reasons which require different conversations and relationships to be built. If you don’t have the time to build the relationship, you haven’t earned the right to punish them.  We only learn and grow through the leadership of people who care about us. Who invest in us. Not through the punishment of people who don’t have the time to invest in us.

“Dreams don’t have deadlines.” L.L Cool J (He’s worth 100 million dollars)

“Occasionally ask, “What is the connection between what I want most in life and anything I plan to do today?” ~Robert Brault

“A deadline is Negative inspiration” -Rita Mae Brown

Coach K

Be an Impractical Teacher

It’s been a while since I have posted, the reasons are many. However, none of those reasons are very valid. I just found it impractical to write. This is one of the easiest, and one of the most prevalent, excuses we can use in order to stop ourselves from doing the most worth while things.

I started the school year, way back in September, being impractical. I had big plans, cool ideas, sound theory. As the year went on, until about march I moved forward with these plans and really improved my teaching. At this point I started speaking up in staff meetings.

I was at a new school this past year. I read a post somewhere that said the best way to approach a new job is too keep your head down and really focus on doing a good job for 6 months, then start making noise and show what you can do.

I started sharing my ideas in meetings, offering suggestions for collaborative education, group work, new ways to evaluate and deal with students. I was nervous to speak the first time, I don’t often get nervous. It turns out I was right to be nervous.

I was scoffed at, laughed at, told that my ideas were impractical, that my ideas were great in theory but would never actually work. This was all despite actually doing these things in my class. Despite reams of research backing up my work.

I spoke up at the meetings for a period of about 3 months before I gave up, something else I don’t often do. I feel bad about not speaking up. The school was better for me speaking, and worse off when I stopped.

Teaching is undergoing some fundamental shifts. We need a new way of doing things. Those new things are impractical when taken in the current context of education. We need more technology, more student voice, more student choice, more group work, more life lessons, more subjectivity.

It’s difficult, its expensive, it’s impractical. It’s worth it.

We need school leaders who can shape school culture. We need teachers who are OK with a little chaos and a lot of change. It can no longer be OK to use the same lesson plans. It was OK for a while, but those old lesson plans serve a purpose we don’t need any more.

We need an educational approach that shapes our students into problem-solvers and leaders. We need innovators and change makers.

Our world is constantly changing, new careers are popping up every day. University degrees fail to make good on the promises of the past. Our students need their passions ignited, not our passions that we choose to show them, but through our guidance through their own journey.

Be impractical, do things the hard way. Our students need us to take risks.

Coach K

“People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history” ~ Dan Quayle