Thursday, October 27, 2016

King of the World

“Mom, when I go to college, what do I need to learn so I can be king of the world?” said my 6-year-old son one morning as we were driving to school.

I was a bit taken aback. First, a 6-year-old is thinking and talking about college and what he wants to be when he grows up. That is pretty cool. Second, I don’t want to squash his dreams because there is no king of the world. However, there is a leader in those aspirations, so my next words are important.

“You study the world, big guy. And you learn all about how to be a great leader,” I tell him. He satisfied with that reply, continuing to think and then move on to the next topic swirling in his head.

I tell this story for two reasons.
  1. It is just awesome how kids think and dream. They are ready to take on the world and learn all about it. It is not our place to squash those dreams, only foster and develop them so our children can pursue their passions.
  2. Each child is different, and we need to celebrate and develop it, not standardize their thinking.

I have three boys. I tell the many stories of my three boys because they bring me back to thinking and dreaming. While these three boys have been raised by the same two parents in the same household, they are each very different. Call it birth order or whatever you want, but each of my boys has a completely different personality and different passions and strengths.

My oldest is my debater and analyzer. He is my mathematician, rule-follower, and perfectionist. The world is black and white with very few shades of gray, and those shades of gray better have some reason for being there. He loves sports. He pours his heart into it all, wanting to be the best he can.

My middle son is my easy-going, fun-loving, hard worker. He doesn’t mind putting sweat and tears in the work that needs done. My heavy-lifter, put your head down and go guy, he is loved by everyone for his humor and work ethic. He is built like a little athlete and does well in the sports and activities he plays.

My youngest son melts everyone’s heart with his sneaky little grin. He is a smart, but quiet little guy, who has a hilarious sense of humor and a loud cackle to go with it. He is perfectly content to play with friends or play by himself, and will do so for hours on end. He builds, constructs, but also watches and learns from others.

Each child is different, has different likes and dislikes, and completely different personalities. And while this is my reality at home, they enter an educational system that expects each one of them to reach particular milestones in learning and skills at the exact same time. I am not saying anything against their school, because I know their school is amazing with each of them, noting their strengths and weaknesses, differentiating for them. I know this because I am the principal of that school, and I know their teachers and our school is fantastic.

But, this isn’t about their school. This is about our educational system. We have constructed an educational system that touts differentiation and telling kids to pursue their passions, but bleeds standardization and conformity. Our schools are publicly judged on test scores and flawed accountability systems, thus pressured to conform to teach in this manner. The cycle is defeating as an educator, and many are clamoring to find ways to bring the joy back to teaching and learning through this system.

We have more knowledge and pedagogical know-how today than ever before. And we know that our system is not what is best for kids. We have brain research that tells us about learning and growing.

It is time we throw out the old lesson plan books and take a good look at the students in front of us, designing learning experiences for our kids in the way we know is best. We need to stop worrying about the test and focus on building skills our students can carry on toward their future, listening to them, developing their strengths, supporting their areas for improvement. We may feel like first-year teachers all over again, but isn’t that exciting? It will rejuvenate the school of the past, bringing it into today.

I don’t have the answers. But I believe our educators together will. We are an insightful group of people who want to do what is best for kids. That is why we became educators. While we can each continue to try different tactics and programs in our schools and districts, we are not changing the greater system. We are infusing what we know works for kids into a system that is still riddled with problems.

Today is a different age than when we grew up. And our system looks the same, but with more standardization. Change needs to be huge, not small and incremental. It is time we throw out the lesson plan books and start over. We can get excited for education again. We need to throw out the old “box” that we continue to pile more “stuff” into, and build a new box for an educational system. It is time to revolutionize education, change “the box” entirely, because that is what is best for kids.

Then, if they want to dream to be “king of the world”, we actually have a place where they can dream and flourish.