Recently, my school had an open-house event. Parents toured some new facilities and the tours were led by members of the high school and middle school Student Council. It got me thinking about students and the opportunities we give them to grow and shine. Obviously, the students selected for open houses and other public events represent the best. They are always the most articulate, presentable and well-behaved high-achieving students. And, thanks to the opportunities we provide for them, they grow even more articulate, presentable and well-behaved over the years. As great as this growth is, I can’t help but wonder why we give so many opportunities to particular students while we ignore students who desperately need a chance to grow and shine. It’s like we are over-watering some plants, while others are left to dry.
Force all students to join an organization
At my school, it seems to be the same students who are involved in just about everything – Student Council, NJHS, GIN, Peer Helpers, Green Team, etc. They are awesome kids and they always step up enthusiastically for new challenges and opportunities. At our quarterly honors assemblies, these kids are front and center again as their names are called out for recognition.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the others – the students who are involved in nothing. These kids have never joined a club, never volunteered to help out, never given back, and have never been recognized at an honors assembly. If schools are truly interested in helping all students grow, we need to encourage the non-participating students to participate in everything that a school can offer. And by “encourage” I mean force.
And, once they are in a group, we need to force them to go the next step and take on different challenges within their group. Yes, they will fail. Yes, they will be miserable. But, the only way that these students are going to get involved and experience growth is to thrust it upon them. After all, we don’t allow students to opt out of tough academic classes and assessments. So, why do we allow them to opt out of non-academic activities?
Note – I spoke to a colleague about this idea and he said he would give certain students an out: students who were not active in school-based activities, but who were active OUTSIDE of school (in sports or other hobbies). Kids with busy schedules outside of school should be given an option to say no to school organizations. Our school, for example, has a number of students who are world ranked in sports like tennis and golf. These kids are BUSY. Forcing them to take on an additional role would be cruel!
Rotate opportunities among groups
Once students are in groups, we need to rotate responsibilities around. This way, every team and organization has a chance to try something new. This month Student Council organizes and runs our assemblies, next month it’s the basketball team. Everyone needs to be pushed out of their comfort zones and try something scary and new.
Be okay with imperfection
When parents, admin or board members visit the school, we always put the best students in the spotlight. It’s a basic teacher survival technique. We want things to run smoothly and we want to put our proverbial best foot forward. Good students reflect positively on our teaching. Maybe it’s time to be okay with things not running so smoothly. School isn’t the pros. School is the practice field – the place for learning and making mistakes.
Growth is the name of the game
At the 2016 Tri-Association Annual Educators’ Conference in Guadalajara, one of the big themes was the need for a re-positioning of the concept of failure. One of the speakers came up with the acronym FAIL – First Attempt In Learning. Cute, but clever. Although, as clever as the acronym is, the actual concept of making failure an option requires a substantial culture shift in the minds of students, parents and teachers. Not everyone is okay with the idea of failing. Shifting from an outcome-based model to a growth-based model will take time and a little bit of coercion. Giving students – all students – opportunities to try, fail and then grow by forcing them to join a school organization is one easy way to get the ball rolling.
That’s my 2 cents. What is it like at your school? Are students obliged to join clubs or organizations? Are students mandated to seek out challenges and opportunities. I would love to hear your experiences!