I listened to a podcast recently that really sparked some thinking about living in a purpose based school and having clarity of that purpose among all members. This past year, the high school where I serve rewrote our mission statement. Our new mission statement contains three key components: serving a diverse community, developing independent thinkers, and helping students excel in an ever-changing world.
We have spent a great deal of time already this school year discussing and planning strategies to make these ideas come to life and happen in our classrooms and hallways daily. A big part of that conversation is about helping all students excel…ALL students. These conversations have turned my thinking to the lines of what types of actions will assist us in putting this mission into motion. I have asked myself often over the past few weeks: What policies, procedures, and practices show this mission is in action? What messages are our actions sending on a daily basis?
You can’t say we support ALL students and then have policies that do not align to meeting every student where they have the greatest need. You can take points off of an assignment- for work that should support learning because it is late, or drop grades because of behavior, but you need to understand the message that this sends… what students are learning is that punctuality and behavior are more important than the lessons being taught. If it is important to learning, we must do everything to help ALL students, because ALL is an encompassing term and students on the whole are diverse. Diversity (as in the students sitting in our seats) must be met with diversity in our instruction, our practices, our expectations, and our measurement of success. One size fits all policies are easy, but they do not help ALL students succeed. One size fits all policies meet the needs of MOST, but they do not meet the needs of ALL.
You may greatly disagree with my previous statements. But, I challenge you to think to yourself and ask:
- Have you ever been late to work? Have you ever left a little early?
- Have you ever called in and taken a sick day when it was really a personal day?
- Have you ever been late to a faculty meeting?
- Have you always turned in everything on time that your supervisors asked from you?
- Have you ever been underprepared for a lesson you taught or a meeting you attended?
- Have you answered a text or check social media with your cell phone in a meeting?
Now image if each time one of those things happened you lost 25%, 50%, or 100% of your paycheck for that day. Would you be motivated for anything other than compliance if you did?
Personally, I would be mad if something I viewed as important kept me from attending a meeting on time and therefore I was penalized. I would be mad if I just forgot to hand something in and did not get a little grace to get it in on time. I would be mad if someone did not trust that I could manage my cell phone and still be engaged in a meeting. How do these ideas make you feel? I can assure you I would not be motivated. And, if you are motivated by this it is a motivation born out of compliance, not engagement.
So, if all of this is true, why do we expect penalties to motivate kids? Why do we try to teach motivation through scare tactics and fear, and point reductions for instance?
This leads me to the thought that we need to decide that we are going to publically say we will not help ALL students or we need to align our practices to meet the diversity of needs in front of us on a daily basis.
I am not saying that teaching students that punctuality and attention to task are not important, but I am challenging the way we tend to go about doing that. I want us to challenge our current practices and make sure the motive behind those practices is to help ALL students achieve in our schools. I know, personally, these ideas have been very challenging for me to consider over the past few weeks. Doing what is right isn’t always easy, nor is it always clear. But, I feel if we focus on helping ALL students who come to us everyday from many diverse backgrounds… if we really focus on these students and their needs, then doing what is right becomes a little more clear. This clarity is not easy, but is the right thing to do.
Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!