A few weeks ago I was in conversation with an acquaintance. He was relating his family's shift from one town to another and the adjustments they had to make, especially the children, who were still in school at the time. He reflected on how each child took time to adjust to their new environment, how difficult and different it was for each sibling. But what really clinched the discussion was a comment he shared as relayed to him by one of his daughters, who was a History student. She related her biggest adjustment was to accept she moved from a school where History was debated to a school where History was dictated! It was a "deal clinching" statement.
A few months earlier a parent challenged me to determine how many school environments are "leerfiks" - fit for learning. At the time the parent lamented her own journey from one province to another, and how her children struggled to adapt to their new teaching and learning spaces, which were so different to their former ones. She said the educators always looked tired, drained of enthusiasm and purpose. Her children complained of a lack of classroom engagement, that they were simply expected to act like sponges, absorbing subject matter without any form of discussion or debate. The climate at the institution was one of "tolerating the kids until the final siren rang". In a nutshell, she said the new school wasn't stimulating her children.
So the question is, what is an engaging school? You will be surprised to know what some of the areas are.
A learningfutures.org “handbook for engaging schools” identifies four elements:
- Using project-based learning that crosses subject boundaries, with students of all abilities. Great student projects grow from student enquiries in order to solve real-world problems. Students find projects highly engaging because they are conducting work that is meaningful to them, and their families or communities. They relish the opportunity to make adult-world connections, work across subject disciplines, and work in extended blocks of time.
- Treating school as a base camp for students’ learning, supporting them to learn beyond the four walls of the classroom. Engaging Schools are the places where students plan and prepare for their projects, and where students analyse and reflect on what they are learning, but learning itself is as likely to take place anywhere in the community as within the walls of the classroom. This does not simply apply to physical spaces for learning – the ‘destination’ for learning can be reached through digital technology too.
- Taking account of (and expanding) every student’s extended learning relationships including those with their families, peers and experts from outside the school. Students have a great deal to gain from working with experts in the fields they are studying, with volunteers from the local community, and with their peers. additionally, students (and schools) can benefit tremendously when schools engage with entire families, not just with children.
- Transforming school into a learning commons where teachers, students, parents and local employers are active partners in designing, delivering and evaluating education. a learning commons culture imports external ideas that challenge internal views and beliefs and, in turn, exports its students – and their assets – to the community it serves. It relentlessly questions what makes for great learning, and it shuns the professional jargon of learning so that parents can play a full part in these conversations. It sees membership in a professional learning community not as a personal opt-in, but as an essential driver for change – and it creates the necessary time and structure to support this community.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find schools that have entrenched the-above as part of their daily routine. And I can understand why. Most schools simply want to get done with the coverage of the curriculum as contained in the textbook and policy documents. It's so easy to keep the learning experiences of our children that narrow. And maybe that’s why so many children are bored-to-death with school.