Children of middle school age are going through many changes.
They are reaching a stage of their life where they place increasing importance on being noticed and accepted by their peers and this is a time when peer pressure becomes a major influence in the many choices a child faces.
The school/parent relationship has a very important role to play in terms of helping children make good choices in terms of being healthy, safe and respectful to others.
What are ‘good choices”? They are choices which keep students safe and healthy and they are choices which give them opportunities for friendship and self confidence.They are also choices which show responsibiltiy towards the environment and each other. It is very important for us to help students take responsibility for the choices they make and take responsibility for the things they choose to involve themselves in.
When parents have the luxury of being able to choose a school, they do so for many reasons. I wonder how many ask to see the school’s mssion statement? The mission statement at the school I am principal at the moment, emphasizes respectful, caring and encouraging behavior within a diverse community as the backbone of who we say we want our community to be. But we can’t achieve this without parents help. There was a famous Rabbi who once said “Educating children without parental involvement is like heating a house with the windows open.
Families have a set of values which are defined through traditions and moral or sometimes religious beliefs, which are sometimes known as ‘family values’. Our school’s mission statement is a living document which declares what we value as a community. It is a statement of our ‘family values’. For the parent/school partnership to work most effectively we need to have shared values. Schools have an impossible task ahead of them in terms of helping students make ‘good’ choices if the values or definition of what good choices are differ.
An interesting activity each family reading this could try would be to sit down at home and come up with a family mission statement– A statement that defines the families’ values and goals. Once this statement is agreed upon and written down, the family could take out the school’s mission statement and compare.
What things are the same what are different?
The choices we make have an effect on others and it is important for us all to be able to reflect on these and move on. It’s also important for us to reflect on what we do to support the communities’ shared set of values at school and at home.
Here’s what the definition of Discipline is according to merriam-webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com)
Teachers need to know the names of their students. Teachers also need to speak to students using their names. Sounds obvious, but some educators underestimate the immense power of addressing someone by name. There were times, when I taught at a large comprehensive school in London, when, after teaching a class for the best part of a year (two periods a week), I didn’t know all of their names. Children and adults notice when you don’t know them AND they notice when they do. I make it may business as a principal to get to know my students, how else can you build up a relationship? Walk down the corridors, smile, greet people by name, make comments like ‘good job with the basketball game at the weekend’ (sorry Alfie Kohn, I’m working on the praise thing!) and you’ll notice a huge difference. A parent probably knows their child the best. They can detect mood changes; they notice things which seem ‘out of the ordinary’. This can and is often put down to ‘hormones’, ‘teenagers’, etc, but if we as educators get to know students better, we can spot changes and we can respond to them. We can work in partnership with home to help the students. This can only be achieved when the teacher to student ratio is small. At our small international school we proudly state that our teacher to student ratio is low. This is usually interpreted as having small class sizes. This of course is educational more sound than large class sizes for obvious reasons, but I consider teacher to student ratio being ‘the number of students a teacher actually teaches’. It’s all very well having a maximum class size of 18. but if you teach 15 classes in a week, which some teachers do in a week that’s 270 students and if you only see them for 80 minutes a week, what chances have you of really knowing them? Going back to knowing their names, is it any wonder some teachers struggle with remembering names?
As a parent, when you go to look at a school or when you go to your next parent/teacher consultation day ask the teachers of your child; “How many kids do you teach a week?” and “How well do you know my son/daughter?”. Of course if they don’t know your son or daughter well it may not be their fault. Ask those questions to the people running the school!
The ‘we’ factor is very important in schools. Students, staff and parents need to work together to create the best learning environment possible. Students need to be treated with respect and be given a say in the running of the school. Rules shouldn’t be called rules. This sounds too rigid. Why not call them Common Sense Actions (CSA’s?!) or Safety and Common Sense Actions (SACSA). I try to move away from the ‘DON’T’ to the SACSA. For example you could post a sign up and down a corridor saying ‘DON’T RUN’-that is a rule. Students see this and think; “I’m not allowed to run”, quite often without thinking about or knowing why. They only find out why when they are in the principals office! Why not put up signs saying ‘RUNNING in the corridor is dangerous!’ This isn’t a ‘don’t rule’ it’s a statement. Or why not put up a sign saying If you WALK in the corridor, you’ll make the school a safer place. Try to think of some rules at your school and try to turn them from a DON’T to a SACSA.
Students should understand why rules are in place. They pretty much always boil down to actions which may harm or upset others, and safety. When a student is brought to my office for ‘breaking a rule’ I always says to them “tell me one rule that exists in the middle school which isn’t there for either the protection of other’s feelings or safety and I’ll get rid of it.” Students need to have a say in the running of their school. It’s good to have some form of democratic structure in place, whether it be student council, house system etc. At our school, students are elected as house leaders and they meet with me every week to talk about issues and to plan events and competitions. They actually run meetings with their house on their own (there is a teacher advisor in the room, but they step back and let the students run the show), canvassing for student feedback and opinions and bringing them back to me to discuss. They also act as mentors and role models. Younger students should be able to go to them with a problem or concerns. As soon as we have a shared feeling of responsibility, the atmosphere or ethos will be better.
This is a link to a video of Dennis Littky talking about the MET schools.
Littky is the co-founder and director of the Big Picture Company and the MET school.
I am very impressed with the philospohy of the Big Picture Company and their committment to Small Schools and personalised, relevant and student centered learning. I’d recommend you to take some time to look at this video his ideas are enlightening! I visited a MET school in New York last year and had an amazing experience.
Homework is a hot topic in the middle school at the moment. I have introduced the idea that we need to think about why we set homework and if students do take learning home, what should it look like. After reading much research, articles and books such as Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth”, Sara Bennet and Nancy Kalish’s “The Case against Homework” and Harris Cooper’s “The Battle over homework”, it is clear to me that we need to re-examine and discuss our current practice. I don’t think there is a huge problem at our school, in fact the excellent teachers we have are very open to ideas and change. They are also doing a great job and really have the student’s well being at heart, but I think that we all just assume that homework should be set and all have very different ways of setting it.
I am not saying that there should be no learning done at home, I am simply saying that the learning should be relevant, interesting and personalized. If a student is really excited about their learning and they want to continue their learning at home, they will!
One point of discussion is to look at the curriculum content of each subject. If a teacher feels that she or he needs to set homework in order to “get through the curriculum content” then I would say we need to look at the curriculum and see if things can be re arranged to enable it to be taught primarily at school.
Another area is the awful practice of saying “Here’s the work for today and if you can’t finish it, you have to do it for homework”. Who does this benefit. The kids who find the work easy don’t have any homework and are not stretched and the kids who are struggling or just simply take longer, end up with homework.
The students at our school, through the student leadership body are also looking at homework through surveys and interviews. It upset me yesterday when I saw a video interview with a 6th grader who said “Home is for fun and school is for work”. When I hear comments like this I feel we have failed this student and need to try to get through to him that learning should and can be fun. This student needs to be excited about learning at school at home.
I visited the Bronx Guild School in New York last year, which is a big picture school. I asked a student there whether he had homework. He said “I don’t get given homework, but I do a lot of my work at home”. If people get excited about something they are doing, they’ll just want to keep doing it.
I read an interesting response to the opinion of some educators that kids can’t always have fun and they need repetitive practice homework in order to teach them discipline and organizational skills. They also sometimes compare this opinion with Musicians and Athletes who have to do a lot of preparation and repetitive exercises to get better. The response simply said “The difference is that the musicians and athletes WANT to do it”.
I’d happily give a student 2 hours of Math practice questions to do at home if they were interested in doing them!
More to follow….!