In the meantime…

A photo from Unsplash

“Let me be clear: As it currently stands, we have more policies, systems, and structures currently in place that hinder students than those that help them. Anyone that believes otherwise should talk to any of my students.”

This was an excerpt from an Op-Ed I wrote last month for Getting Smart. In it, I shared my thoughts about how our educational system’s words don’t always align with its actions. I won’t retract my statements on the state of student voice (or rather, lack of) in our country. 

The bottom line is our students deserve better. 

As adults, we have a moral obligation to amplify student voice and improve the school experience for all students, especially those that have been and continue to be marginalized. 

I’d also like to quickly add a thought so important that it deserves its own post: our educational system is the way it is because our policy makers continue to make decisions that maintain the status quo. We quickly place the complexities of societal “problems” on schools. This is beyond unrealistic and unfair. 

But, in the meantime, while century-old systems crumble, we can’t just sit by and wait on other people to get their act together.

We have to take action. It’s easy to stand around and complain. I do it and so does anyone who works for or in our schools. We have to. Otherwise, we will go crazy. Everyone complains at some point about their job; and if they say they don’t, I wouldn’t trust them. What we also have to do though, is get on with our feelings of frustration and be part of the solution. 

In no particular order, here are a few insights I’ve had in a decade of teaching that hopefully can benefit a classroom, school, or district:

Design thinking gets to the heart of the issue. 

No matter the issue in education, it’s a human issue. In our sector, we are dealing with souls. Thus, any issue that arises deserves a human-centered problem-solving approach. 

It’s not “innovation” if you’re not experimenting early, often, and on a small scale. 

Innovation has become a buzzword in business and education that makes people feel good that their efforts are actually making an impact. Today’s wicked problems require a rapid, iterative, feedback loop. You can’t scale to all schools in your state until you test ideas in a classroom first. 

Students don’t think their work makes an impact. 

Because we hardly ever help co-create opportunities for students to take control of their own learning, they are jaded. Even when students are given space to follow their passions or interests, they struggle reconfiguring their mindset about possibilities and contribution. 

Kids need time to be kids…INSIDE school walls. 

We are so focused on seat time and time-on-task that we forget the essence of the school day:  kids looking for connection with and belonging among peers and adults. Take 10 minutes to laugh with your students by showing Tik Tok videos, let them text their friends, or play video games on their laptops. Just as important, rather than chase down a student for having his hood up or AirPods in, ask him about his weekend. 

At the end of the day, we adults have already gone through school. If I reflect back on the first half of my life, I remember one thing that used to make me roll my eyes and tune out more than anything else was when an adult would try to convince me that what I was being taught was “for my own good” or “I would need this in the real world.” Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. How many times though was I given a chance to learn what I wanted, how I wanted? 

Our students know more than we give them credit for. It’s time we let them take the wheel and simply be there to help them navigate the road from the passenger seat. Because eventually, they will arrive at our stop. We will get out, say thanks for the ride, and wave goodbye.

They will continue on without us. Where they go next, is entirely up to them.

Published by Jason Vest

Middle school educator in Henrico County (just outside of Richmond, VA) - 2018 iNACOL Innovator Award Winner - Host of the AfterEd Podcast, focused on individuals around the world that are challenging the status quo in education - Learning should be fun and experiences should raise the bar and the self-awareness of the individual. Outside of the classroom, my passion and focus is on helping all stakeholders reimagine education take action to bring innovation into and out of our schools in RVA, Henrico, and across the Commonwealth. #ReimagineRVA 

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