A few weeks back, a buddy of mine named Brett Clark asked me to write a post for his semi-annual 12 Days of Dreaming campaign. For the #12DOD, Brett spotlights the thinking of a different educator around one simple question: What are YOUR dreams for education?
The topic resonates with me because I am completely convinced that we need to imagine something better for our schools. The simple truth is that I almost can’t live with the tension between what we SAY matters and what we PRIORITIZE in our buildings any longer. The disconnect between our practices and our beliefs — something that Will Richardson talks about in his recent Ted Talk — is as professionally irresponsible as it is unsustainable.
But I’ve worked hard to listen to my students this year. I’m asking them for feedback — on my instructional practices, on our learning spaces, on the opportunities that our team provides — as frequently as possible. The way I see it, to ignore the thoughts and feelings and beliefs and opinions of the kids in our classrooms is shortsighted and disrespectful. How can we create engaged learners if we aren’t genuinely interested in their notions about the work that we do on a daily basis.
So I had them to do a bit of dreaming about education last week. “If YOU were in charge,” I asked, “what would you change about school? What would your dream class in school look like?”
Their answers were varied and interesting. Some students wanted less homework, pointing out that the after school activities they are involved in are important to them. Others wanted more choice over the classes that they take, expressing a sense of loss at not being able to experiment with different subjects and teachers over the course of their time in our building.
My favorite responses suggested that we take student interests into account when planning our curriculum. “What I would like as a dream school,” wrote a student I’ll call Samir*, “would be a lot of choices about what we study for the unit. We could pick one and go together with the other people who picked that one. Then, we can decorate the classroom with educational posters and make music videos and such about the topic we’re learning.”
They also wanted:
- More games and fewer worksheets.
- Chances to work with different partners as frequently as possible.
- Less bullying.
- Longer transition times so they didn’t have to worry about being late.
- Cupcakes on every counter top.
- Classroom pets.
- And lifetime pizza for everyone!
The dream that appeared the most often, however, was a surprisingly simple one: My students want to go OUTSIDE. “The whole day would be outside, interacting with the world around us,” wrote a student I’ll call Kenisha*. “Maybe we could gather information on the things that we are interested in learning. Then we spend the week learning those things.”
Kenisha’s thoughts were echoed time and again. My kids begged for recess to be reinstated. They asked to go and sit on the grass during lessons. They wanted to get rid of classrooms completely — moving our entire team to the park that borders our building.
Those reactions left me more than a little convicted. I started to think about the fact that there are entire MONTHS where my students walk into our building at 7:45 and walk out at 3:15 without ever stepping outside. Instead, they study under fluorescent lights sitting in hard chairs inside concrete classrooms. Heck, if I’m being REALLY honest, there are entire MONTHS when we don’t even open the WINDOWS in our classrooms.
Do you realize how physically unhealthy that is? Fresh air matters — and so does stretching and running and feeling something other than tile under your feet, particularly when you are twelve. Worse yet, how can I possibly instill an appreciation for the environment in my students when “the environment” is something seen through second story windows?
So I’m making a promise to my kids: Starting now, we are going outside as often as we can. Sometimes, we’re going to study the world around us. Maybe we’ll count animal and plant species at the pond that borders our building. Maybe we’ll document the changes we see in nature from winter to spring to summer in journals or illustrations. Other times, we’re going to just go outside and sit in the grass under a tree while we silent read. But we are GOING to go outside.
*Note: Students’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
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