What Students Want Us to Know

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. 



About mprater

I'm a recently retired school teacher/administrator continuing to help people grow through personal learning. When not blogging, I do consulting work for schools and organizations, make presentations at conferences, and research for publication. At the same time, I have to set aside enough time to enjoy the "good life" of retirement!
This entry was posted in Administrators' Corner, Education in the News, Policy and Analysis and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What Students Want Us to Know

  1. Patricia Radford says:

    My name is Patrica Radford and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I have to agree with you. A students feedback can help you know if your teaching method is working and if they are interested at all. I believe all teachers should listen to what their students have to say. This is the most effective way to become a better teacher.

  2. Linda Garscha says:

    My name is Linda Garscha and I am also a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I agree with you on receiving feedback from students. All students are different and may need different teaching methods to learn. Students learn valuable information from teachers so teachers should learn from their students. Everyone should lead by example and continue to learn something new every day even if its from some one younger than yourself.

    • mprater says:

      Thanks for your comments, Linda. I appreciate your insight that students learn at different rates with different methods. It’s a tall order for teachers to differentiate instruction, but essential for student success.

  3. James Dunnam says:

    My name is James Dunnam I am a secondary education student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I believe children need good mentors in their lives. First and foremost their parents should be good mentors. Grandparents, older siblings, church members, coaches, and many others can be great role models. However a teacher should be high on the list for being a good mentor. Students typically spend 7-8 hours a day with their teachers, and teachers are very important in a child’s intellectual development.

    I agree with you that teachers need to listen to their students. The feedback that students provide to the teacher will help them determine if they are being an effective teacher and if they need to make any changes. I viewed the post you provided by the Innovative Educator which gave students the opportunity to express their opinions on how to improve schools. I found the summary of the top 20 comments to be interesting and informative. Especially what it said about students having a need for an adult to connect with them. I also agree that all students are not interested in the same things and learn at different rates. I believe being a good teacher and role model requires helping the student to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to accomplishing their goals. I also agree that we need to use more resources of technology in the classroom. Teaching children how to pass standardized tests is not the best tool for learning. Thank you for sharing your comments. They were very informative and will help me in my educational journey.

  4. mprater says:

    Thanks for your comments, James. You are right, teachers should be mentors and role models to young people. Research is clear that one of the primary factors impacting student success is a meaningful relationship with an adult at school. Kids will usually work their hearts out for a teacher who loves them, accepts them, and believes in their success.

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