Inspiring Learners (Pernille Ripp) is one of those books that just makes you want to be a better educator. As I read it, I was constantly highlighting sections I knew I would want to return to as I begin preparing for next year. But my favorite thing about this resource was not necessarily the inspiring message. Instead, it was the questions it left me asking myself by the end. Important questions. BIG questions. Questions made only more relevant as I prepared to proctor the STAAR test this week.
As I observed students taking this state-mandated test, I was struck with what I noticed. There were students you could just tell would do fantastically well. They knew all of the right things to do, had all of the right strategies in their tool belts. There were the students who didn’t care–the ones who sat there drawing on their tests, then quickly scanned the material and haphazardly bubbled in answers. And then there were those students who, no matter how hard they tried, were just going to be defeated by a score assigned to them that has nothing to do with their actual ability.
And this is what students think is the point of school. This test, in which they have no say, and which seems to determine so much.
In April 2015, The Guardian published an article about Ken Robinson and his ideas about the standardization of public schools:
“As a result, we are at risk of inculcating an industrial education system producing compliant, linear pupils. ‘The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.’ “
Rather than nurturing the diverse talents of our students, we are pushing them through a mill of standardization and sameness. Which just doesn’t make sense. In response to this idea, Pernille Ripp begs us to reflect on our own learning. How many of us did well in the public school system? If that answer is very few, then why do we continue to teach in the tradition of those who came before?
Now I want you to ask how many of us thrived. Because there is a major difference in a student who has figured out the system, and one who truly thrives in the academic environment we have created.
One of our jobs as educators is to prepare students for success in life outside of school. And something we should be aware of is that the job markets of the future are rapidly changing. Advances in technology, an era of start-ups, and the rise of importance in entrepreneurship are creating job markets where certain skill sets are valued above others. According to youthpower.org, the top 10 skills for 2020 are as follows:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgement and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive Flexibility
Let that list sink in for a moment. These are the skills needed for high school students that will be entering the job market in the next five years. What do you notice?
I notice that students need to be adaptable, creative, team players and problem solvers. Then the big one–cognitive flexibility. I look at these words and I wonder at a system that routinely crushes creativity and curiosity. If we want our students to thrive, we need to reconsider our strategies. We need to create environments that celebrate individuality within the learning process. Environments that challenge, require students to problem solve, include real-life application for the standards being taught. And I, for one, feel like standardized testing weakens this system. We need something in place that helps to foster an infrastructure that empowers students to think on their own, based on their intellectual strengths.
How do we do this? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that it starts in the classroom. It starts with what and how we teach our kids. It starts with us.
I write this to raise this issue for you, but I also write it for myself. As a first year teacher, I have let a lot slide. I am not always proud of the decisions I’ve made or the way I’ve handled certain things. As I prepare to start year two, I know I want something better for my students…and for myself. And by going into planning with all of this information in mind, I’m hoping I can create an atmosphere where students not only succeed, they thrive.