Monthly Archives: January 2013

Are we listening to the students?

Post by Glenn Whitman


Few weeks go by at St. Andrew’s when the rhetorical question, “Who are we doing this for?” is not raised, often by our Assistant Head of School. Every employee at St. Andrew’s knows the answer: the students. What then I find very interesting is how often we (the adults) make decisions about curriculum and program without input from students. In fact, in my twenty years as an independent school educator–at three different schools–rarely has a student been a part of curricular decisions that will impact their academic journey. While I do not expect to transform the culture of schools where students are frequently involved in decisions around what courses or extra-curricular opportunities to offer (though I would like to see such a school in action) why can’t we involve students more?

Such thinking was reignited over this holiday break when I found myself invigorated about the ides of involving students more in the design of curriculum as I read the book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School. What made this read even more compelling was that a 17-year old student from a public high school in New York wrote this well-researched book. It needs to be a must read for every educator.

Education is about the students and the world they will shape with the tools of today that they are so comfortable with and the tools of tomorrow that have not yet been designed. Educational leaders are missing a critical voice in all the discussions around testing, technology and 21st century schooling. It is time we invite individuals like Nikhil Goyal to the “big kids table” to share what it is like to be a student.

What is the value added of such conversations? As St. Andrew’s transitions to becoming a 1:1 laptop school, I was intrigued by a recent story I heard regarding one of my colleagues. This teacher asked her students, “How can they imagine technology being better used in this class to advance and deepen learning?” She was flabbergasted by the answers.

Teachers like this recognize that learning happens best in collaboration. By posing such a question they enter into what Marc Presenkly, most recently the author of, Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom, calls a “pedagogical partnership” with their students. Teachers who share authority with their students are creating a more engaging and meaningful learning experience.

Such is truly a 21st century classroom, where exceptional teachers recognize their strengths but harness the strengths of the “digital natives” who populate their classrooms.

Are you one such teacher?