By Tedd Wakeman, Co-Founder and Director, the Sycamore School (CA)
As trends continue toward “rigorous,” standards-based educational practice, those of us on the front lines of reimagining education continue to explore the power and efficacy of developing competencies, mindsets, and essential skills. It’s a pursuit that requires a new process for decision-making that honors student engagement and agency while staying true to the educational outcomes you aim to achieve. It’s a pursuit that requires risk-taking and the belief that relevant experiences for students provide the most powerful learning opportunities.
Student-generated ideas and “fly by night fads” can be incredibly disruptive to an educational system. Kids can be bad at thinking about unintended consequences, taking multiple perspectives, and thinking deeply about the broader impact of their ideas. As for the school, these pursuits are traditionally viewed as non-essential and fall outside the walls built to protect prescribed learning time. “They can design that skate ramp on their own time. School is for serious learning!”
While it’s fair for educators and school leadership to take these challenges into consideration, the typical solution for disruptive thinking is to simply shut things down, often without question. This has been the answer to wild and wooly student innovation for decades and usually goes without protest from educators and parents. Enthusiastic students, on the other hand, find disappointment and disillusionment as a result.
The issue seems to be that interest-inspired ideas from students involve some tricky navigation for adults. However, they also present incredible opportunities for relevant and engaged learning. They are the perfect arena for students to develop the essential competencies of communication, collaboration, observation, critical thinking, and problem solving.
Let’s look at an example:
Realizing her fellow classmates had taken a real liking to “slime,” one young student recognized an opportunity. She’d been wanting to save money for an expensive iWatch and began making, packaging, and selling her own slime varieties at school. For a while, it went smoothly, and we heard nothing from educators, parents, or students except for how cool it was that this kid had shown such initiative. However, calm waters led to stormy seas and eventually the concerns began to rain down. “We want to have a business too!” said other students. “Why is my child asking me for money to take to school?” said the parents.
And here’s where it happens; that moment when administration is faced with what appears to be a very easy decision to SHUT IT DOWN! We often become entangled…