Friday, November 15, 2013

What Elementary Schools can Teach High School Communities Part 1

What Elementary Schools can Teach High School Communities Part 1

It has been two and a half solid months since I have made the switch from High School Vice Principal to Elementary School Counselor and the culture shock has finally started to wane.  I know that I have made the right decision - as painful as the process to make it has been – by the way I am exhaling with greater ease and by the fact my beloved twin declared, “I am glad to finally have my sister back” and the occasional, “You look ten years younger now!” comment that can only speak to the fact that who I am and what I do are more closely aligned.

Although I am hardly qualified to qualify myself as an expert, in fact quite the opposite, I believe my beginner’s mind and eyes have some quality observations to share with the general public. This transition offers a wonderful opportunity to share my top 10 list if you will, of things High School Communities can Learn from Elementary School. Enjoy.


1.    High Schools Need to Operate More Like Kindergarten Classrooms.

Yes, you read that right.  Much of what happens in Kindergarten classrooms is all about enculturating young beings into routines that will ultimately make them better people.  Sit in your spot on the magic carpet.  Say good morning, please, thank you, I’m sorry and welcome when needed.  Wash your hands.  Don’t pick your nose.  Wash your hands.  Wait your turn.  This is what your day looks like.  Everyone gets to try a few of these pumpin seeds.  Now try some that have a different flavor.  Everyone has to try at least one.  Okay, so it is overt in Kindergarten, but the value of embedding manners, social rules of engagement, please and thank you, should not be overlooked, even in a Physics 12 or PreCalculus  Advanced Placement class.  It matters.


Cure For High Schools

2.    Teach Children Not Subjects.

Elementary schools are set up to do this, and High Schools are structurally set up to  teach subjects.  Nevertheless, the value of seeing a person learning a subject versus a subject needing to be learned cannot be underestimated.  This is another big fat plus in the Project Based Learning models as it helps high school structures move towards the student and the student’s experience of the subject.

3.    Routine, Structure, and Consistent Boundaries are More Critical Than Ever in our Age of Distraction.

I know this sounds like a contradiction.  How can I say yes to question based curriculums and at the same time, ask for more “rules and boxes”?  Because we need both, and the more chaotic and unstructured our way of learning becomes, the more we need some structures and rules of engagement.  They go hand in hand, literally.  It is the structures and consistent expectations we set up in our classroom and school cultures that provide students with the direction and context and practice needed to move in the world of Wikepedia, Google and Twitter.

4.    No Amount of Skype, Texting and Angry Birds can Replace the Contact of Human Connection

We are all about our bodies.  I am all for technology, and I see the incredible value which technology in the form of notebooks, educational apps and Smart Boards bring into educational settings.  I also see how quickly children connect and desire to work in a digital setting.  Without taking that away, our evolving brains, still need physical experiences of play, face to face practice with communication and conflict, lots of experiences of human contact, appropriate touch and, physical practice with learning.  We must teach to more than our brains for any of this stuff to stick and we have to practice that learning from cradle to grave.  I know it is already my broken record mantra, but boy oh boy, can you ever see the benefit or the deficit, much more acutely in children.

5.    I See You – Being Seen Means Everything.

These elementary school students are not shy about asking for attention. They are eager to connect.  They have not yet been beaten down by the artificial constraints of our industrial model based schools.  They are not shy to let you know, they want to be seen.  Much of my work in developing connections in schools is about letting people know they are seen.  I see you.  I knew this as a VP.  It is an altogether different experience when I am looking in the face of an eight year old.  It is easier for me to put my wants and needs aside and listen and pay attention.  Same goes for our parents and teachers and adult members of Elementary School Communities.  Same goes for me and you. My new job reminds me to go home and remind my loved ones, I see you.


And there is more.  Next blog post, I will throw down my last 5 on my top 10.  I bet you have your own.  I would love to hear what you have in mind…

1 comment:

  1. This is a most interesting and insightful blog post, thank you for sharing. Point 1 makes me thing of Lave's focus on the importance of situated learning - it's interesting that in elementary school the focus is on 'being' and helping kids learn what it means to 'be' at school. As we get older the focus gradually shifts away from 'being' and towards 'doing', where the individual is treated as separate from the knowledge they are acquiring.

    Your second points picks up on this and echoes the reality of Higher Education where there is an even greater focus on teaching subjects rather than individuals. The separation of the individual from their knowledge risks valuing the latter over the former, and is at odds with the model of situated learning that is prevalent in elementary schools. This makes me think of the fantastic TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the importance of 'finding your element' (link below) which so many of us struggle to do until later in our lives. This is potentially a symptom of the focus on the subject rather than the individual - perhaps if we could re-balance this focus throughout High School and University then individuals would have a clearer understanding of 'who they are' rather than 'what they do' much earlier in their professional lives.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html

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