Have We Become Helicopter Teachers?

If you’ve spent any time in the classroom at all, you’ve probably wrestled with more than your fair share of helicopter parents, right?

I know that I have — and every time, I wonder how people who obviously care deeply about their kids can’t see that scripting every action and solving every problem for a child robs them of the chance to develop agency, the single most important skill for functioning successfully in an unpredictable and ultra-competitive world.

Seymour Papert once said it like this:

Slide_ChildPower

He’s right, isn’t he? 

What matters most ISN’T raising kids who complete every project, master every concept and earn honor roll certificates during every assembly from kindergarten through high school.  What matters most is raising kids who accept responsibility for setting a direction, accurately evaluating the progress that they are making, and then changing course when necessary.

My guess is that all of this rings true to you, right? 

Everyone knows that helicopter parents really ARE raising children who struggle to act independently.  They DO prioritize immediate success in short term goals over developing lifelong skills that matter.  And that’s BAD.

So lemme ask you a potentially uncomfortable question:  Aren’t WE helicoptering the kids in our classrooms?

If developing students who know how to act when faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared was a goal that we were pursuing, wouldn’t our kids have regular chances to set their own direction in our classrooms — independently identifying meaningful outcomes that are worth pursuing?

If developing students who know how to act when faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared was a goal that we were pursuing, wouldn’t our kids have regular chances to evaluate themselves in our classrooms — drawing conclusions about skills that they’ve mastered and skills that they are struggling to master?

If developing students who know how to act when faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared was a goal that we were pursuing, wouldn’t kids who were struggling to master concepts in our classrooms have regular chances to develop plans for moving forward?

Do those things happen regularly in your classrooms?

(And by regularly, I mean “more often than not.”)

#nopechat

The fact of the matter is that in response to increasing accountability demands, most schools and teachers have become SUPER prescriptive in their work with students. 

We are directors — walking kids rigidly through a daily script called “the required curriculum.”  We clearly state the learning outcomes we are focusing on in each and every lesson.  We progress monitor every kid all the time.  We provide specific interventions whenever we spot an academic weakness.  We provide incredibly detailed reports about what individual kids know and don’t know at any given time.

And truth be told, in a lot of ways, that’s been a REALLY GOOD thing. 

It’s forced both teachers and schools to act in more targeted and specific ways on behalf of their students than we ever did in previous generations.  We are finally accepting responsibility for the results of our work, realizing that our goal isn’t to just TEACH a curriculum, it’s to make sure students LEARN that curriculum.

But I really do worry that we are also creating spaces where students don’t see themselves as capable partners in the learning process. 

The kids in scripted classrooms are almost never active participants in our lessons — identifying meaningful outcomes, monitoring their own progress towards mastery, taking independent action when they struggle.  Instead, they are passive recipients — waiting for someone to tell them what’s important to know and what’s not, waiting for someone to tell them whether or not they’ve mastered important concepts, waiting for someone to tell them how to improve on their weaknesses.

Stated more simply:  Being super prescriptive about what kids will learn and how they will demonstrate mastery is a professional act — but without some kind of meaningful balance, it also strips agency away from the kids in our care, and that’s NOT a good thing.

Any of this make sense?

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

Another Generation of Teacher Dependent Learners.

Students v. Learners

5 thoughts on “Have We Become Helicopter Teachers?

  1. Pingback: We Need to Treat Education More Like a Garden – the second year teacher

  2. Bryan Dulmage

    This is so true. I remember as a first year teacher trying to do everything for my students. But that was 15 years ago. I’ve learned (many times over) that not only do students want to participate but they NEED to participate even with simple tasks like handing out or collecting papers. What you’re getting at is student reflection, ownership, empowerment, and self-evaluation of their learning. Metacognition, self-regulation, and a bunch of other prerequisites of the personalized learning model that is so en vogue right now. I’m going to be teaching a 1-hr session on personalized learning in a few days but the truth is many teachers in the room are not ready to implement this model because they have trouble letting go of control over every facet of teaching and learning in their classrooms. I know it’s a process so I think I’ll have them self-assess their own progress toward this a personalized model. Of course, everyone has their own definition of what personalized learning is and what it looks like. The real question is why. Why do teachers do everything? I think it’s because we have consistently put more onus and culpability on the teacher for everything that happens with students rather than recognizing the students responsibilities. As a result, teachers feel the need to control everything. Letting students struggle and reflect and revise and resubmit work is time consuming and much harder to manage than teaching and learning in lockstep. Many teachers will say “I could’ve got these students to the same place they are now 2 weeks ago.” Of course, the students wouldn’t have learned any agency if they hadn’t struggled. I think as a practical matter, teachers need to pick and choose when to land their helicopter and let the kids go their own way. Thanks for a great article.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Bryan wrote:

      I think as a practical matter, teachers need to pick and choose when to land their helicopter and let the kids go their own way. Thanks for a great article.

      —————

      Hey Bryan,

      I wish I had longer to respond to your great comment this morning but I’m in a bit of hurry.

      Just wanted to say that I love this line. It’s a great way to frame the role that teachers should play in the lives of their students.

      Well said,
      Bill

  3. LisaM

    When the teachers join en masse and fight for what is right, the reforms will go away. Until then, teachers will “teach” test prep curriculum and the kids will suffer.

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