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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do We Meet Our Students’ Expectations?

By Peter DeWitt — June 06, 2013 3 min read
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The best way for students to get real world experience is to be in the real-world.

Student Engagement has been a popular issue to debate over the years. There are arguments on many sides. We have teachers, parents and researchers who believe in a strong teacher-driven approach and others who believe education needs to be student-centered. There are also those who believe it needs to be a combination of both.

But...that’s what the adults in the school system believe. What about our students? Do our students have expectations of what they should learn in school or are they just used to getting told what to do day in and day out? When our students have, for good reason, a low expectation of their school, we have failed.

Our current system of accountability and high stakes testing has certainly not helped the situation. Policymakers wonder why educators are so concerned about high stakes testing at the same time they require it to be a part of teacher and administrator evaluation. They wonder why some educators play it safe at the same time they tie everything to point scales.

Unfortunately, we can be our own worst enemies as well and we need to proceed with caution. There are educators who will never play it safe and approach each day using inquiry-based learning practices. There are others who will not change anything because they are afraid of change, or perhaps were never ever risk-takers in the first place. The school leader plays a large role in whether educators take risks or not. We need to find ways to keep evolving, although we are negotiating our way through uncharted territory.

As much as we are asking ourselves what has happened to academic freedom, our students do not always feel comfortable asking what has happened to their right to choose. Perhaps they never knew it was an option.

During these uncertain times, what do they think of the education they are receiving?

Leaving to Learn
Recently, I came across Lisa Nielsen’s Innovative Educator blog. Lisa posed the question, “How well does your school meet the needs of students?” Nielsen was highlighting the Leaving to Learn Movement which believes the best way for students to get real world experience is to be in the real-world. The movement, according to Nielsen, was begun by Elliot Washor and Charles Marjkowski.

Schools that follow the Leaving to Learn Movement require students to spend one or two days a week in the field learning real world experience that will better prepare them for their future. There are many schools that follow this concept (Poughkeepsie Day School). It seems like such a great concept. After all, textbooks and lectures do not provide students with real-life authentic experiences.

Too often students have to enter a school where it seems as though they are going back in time. I realize that sounds cliché and has been used over and over again. However, we have all visited schools where students sit in desks that are neatly aligned in rows. There are middle and high school students who have to leave their handheld devices at home (we know they don’t) and never get the opportunity to learn the balance between plugging in and turning off.

New Rules of Engagement
Many students do have expectations of their schools; we just may not always be open to hearing them. The Leaving to Learn Movement focuses on the following student expectations:

Relationships - Do teachers really know their students individually? Do they help their students form and maintain relationships with peers and adults?
Relevance - Do schools teach students relevant content?
Authenticity - Is the work that the students do in school respected outside by the community?
Application - Do students get the opportunity to apply what they are learning?
Choice - Do students have real choices about what and how they learn?
Challenge - Is the content being learned challenging?
Play - Do students have the opportunity to play with knowledge? Are schools encouraging risk-taking and allowing students to learn from failure?
Practice - Do students get to engage in meaningful and extended practice?
Timing - Are students given some flexibility and guidance on the best time to pursue a class or project?
Time - Are students allowed to learn something at their own pace?

In addition to the student expectations, there is a quiz that students can take to see if their schools meet their expectations. It can be found on Nielsen’s site.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.