How To Make Schools Better For Kids
Time magazine (Sept. 7, 2015) featured an article this week about strategies that will lead to happier, healthier, and better prepared students. Each of the eight bullet points appear below, along with their choice theory strengths and weaknesses.
Ditch Traditional Homework
Many seem to view homework as a non-negotiable requirement, even though it leads to such mixed results, including high levels of stress at home. Teachers may feel that they are creating a more “rigorous” program by assigning consistent homework, but students don’t necessarily benefit from such rigor. When projects are meaningful to them, students are often willing to work on them wherever, whether at home or at school. It’s ok to occasionally have students complete assignments at home, but more often as educators we should be trying to protect home time as family time.
Make Recess Mandatory
Taking recess time away from students is one of the most common “motivators” of a boss manager. Recess is the most popular time of the day and adults for decades have used it as a threat or form of punishment. Childhood obesity rates have quadrupled in the last 30 years and prominent voices from many fields are calling for more physical activity, not less. I do think recess time should be honored, rather than used as an external controller, however I don’t think we have to make them mandatory. There are times when students might want to finish up a project or get ready for a presentation. We just need to stop using recess as a punishment tool and recognize its value when it comes to student physical, psychological, and social health.
Screen Kids for Mental Illness
I don’t see it as helpful to evaluate and label children with mental illness diagnoses. I do see it as helpful to create and maintain need-satisfying schools where students learn to self-evaluate their own needs and wants, and where they learn to be responsible for their own behavior. When this kind of learning takes place within a warm, caring, and fun environment, bad behavior (often interpreted as mental illness) becomes a non-issue.
Schools are truly our best hope for a peaceful, and even thriving multicultural future. Human beings are not born with intolerance and hatred; those attitudes are learned. Schools, whether public or private, are melting pots of diversity and can be a strong force for good when it comes to learning to accept and respect others.
Turn Discipline into Dialogue
One of choice theory’s key mantras is managing students without coercion. “Punishments like detention,” the article explains, “or getting sent to the principal’s office remove problematic kids instead of addressing what made them misbehave in the first place.” Inappropriate behavior does need to be confronted, but students must be involved in the process. Ellen White describes how “The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction.” (Education, p. 292) Another choice theory mantra is the only person you can control is yourself. School management needs to be about helping students learn to control themselves, rather than supposedly being controlled by the punishments or rewards of teachers.
Let Students Customize Their Curriculums
As the article points out, “Kids have always learned best when they get personal attention.” This is especially true when the topic or material is relevant to them. Computers and tablets (and Smartphones) are able to provide support and enrichment in ways barely imagined until recently. Teachers are learning to differentiate assignments, based on student interests and abilities.
Start Classes After 8:30 am
Certain aspects of the school schedule have been around so long that we don’t even question them, even though data strongly suggests we should do just that. The traditional schedules are not based on student needs, but rather on adult needs (eg-work schedules). Studies on adolescent biology indicate they are hardwired to stay up later, and then get up later. Only one in five schools begins after 8:30 am, so the word on school scheduling still needs to get out.
Design Cafeterias that Encourage Healthy Eating
This is an uphill battle from both the school and student perspective – it is hard for schools to re-tool and offer a more nutritious diet at a reasonable cost, and it is hard for students to change their tastebud preferences. The battle is worth fighting, though, both for student performance now, and for a healthier populace tomorrow. Health care costs related to obesity and heart disease are skyrocketing, a bill that affects all of us.
The eight bullet points got me to thinking. Is it possible to prioritize the top three in this list of eight? I think I would put the following three at the top –
+ Turn discipline into dialogue
+ Let students customize their own curriculum
+ Prioritize diversity
Which three would you put at the top?
Very sorry to see that Wayne Dyer passed away. He has been, to me, a voice of reason and compassion. He credited Glasser with being an early influence on his thinking. For a lot of us we hold that in common with Dr. Dyer.
The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice, is an excellent way to learn about the breadth and depth of William Glasser’s influence. A copy of the book can quickly be gotten through Amazon. Signed copies are also quickly available through the author (that would be me).