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:
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.”)
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?
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