In all our talk about education reform, why don’t we listen to the group who is most affected by our actions: the students? Many schools administer surveys to various stakeholders, including students, on a sporadic basis in response to state or accreditation agency requirements. Rarely do schools solicit feedback on a regular basis from the folks they serve. Even if they do, I have a sense that decision makers tend to place more credibility on responses from teachers and parents than those from students.
One essential component of any organizational improvement is the ability to listen to the brutal truth. It may hurt our leadership pride to hear what people are really thinking about us. But systemic improvement will never take place without us listening to the facts, being reflective, and making necessary changes.
So, what are the kids saying about us? As a teacher I made a practice of surveying my students at the end of each semester regarding my effectiveness. I usually wasn’t surprised by the results. I knew my strengths and weaknesses, and so did they. But the very practice of soliciting their responses enhanced my relationship with them and gave me that “kick in the seat of the pants” to improve my teaching.
In a broad sense, what do students want us to know about our schools? A recent post by The Innovative Educator discussed a student panel hosted by Ann Curry on NBC’s Education Nation that provided young people the opportunity to express their insight into what they think needs to be done to improve schools. The educator listed 20 top comments made by the students. A summary of their comments:
- Students want teachers to establish relationships with them. Of the 20 top comments, 8 of them involved the need for students to have an adult connect with them, listen to them, and provide a sense of family. The old mantra “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has almost become a cliche, but its truth remains.
If you listen to the students in your classroom or school, you will hear them say things like: “I can’t learn from you if you aren’t willing to connect with me,” or “caring about the students is more important than teaching the class,” or “when you feel like a family member it means so much.”
Students are unique individuals who are interested in different things, learn at different rates, and need adults to help them set goals and feel good about personal achievement. Five of the top 20 comments involved the need for teachers to understand students’ individuality and help them set personal goals. Students feel frustrated when everyone is expected to meet an arbitrary benchmark at a pre-determined time with no regard to individual differences.
- Students don’t want to take standardized tests.Following closely the previous thought, we aren’t fooling students when we give them high-stakes tests. Three of the 20 comments related to the notion that tests are given for the sake of the school, not for the sake of the students. One young lady commented, “we do tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don’t help us learn what’s important to us.”
- Students want to learn what is relevant to them in an engaging and interesting environment, especially using technology. Three more comments involved using technology in teaching. Young people graduating in 2012 are the first “Internet Explorer” graduates. That is, they were born after the first version of Internet Explorer was released. They have no concept of life before the digital age. Our schools used to be places where parents sent their kids to “learn stuff.” With the vast number of online learning resources, our schools now are places where we facilitate learning rather than being the sole repositories of knowledge.
It’s time to listen to the children we serve. They have more insight to the way things really are than we many times realize.