Community in the Classroom

September 3, 2010

Paul CurtisI think I’ve just read the best summary of the New Tech experience … but I’m a bit biased … I wrote it. It’s one of many chapters in a book called The Personalized High School – Making Learning Count for Adolescents which has several stories contributed by education innovators in successful schools. While I am proud of my chapter in particular, no surprise I know, I think It is worth reading the entire book for the consistent themes that reinforce our work at New Tech and for the many examples of how others have solved some of the issues we are grappling with. It’s a quick read and if you get 5 good ideas out of it, it’s worth it. What stands out in each contributor’s story, despite the superficial differences in the various models, is the similarity in the key ingredients required for students success. The secret to getting students to learn is no real secret at all … it’s just not easy to mandate that schools do it.

Here is what we know: 1) Humans (kids included) have to feel part of the community that cares about them and they feel connected to. For some kids this happens through sports or band. For many students it never happens. What if we used “student connectedness” as a formative assessment for school success? Perhaps each student might be required to create a “personal community building plan” that listed the groups they would join (or create) as part of their high school experience. 2) Humans have to see the value in what they are learning. It is not enough to create a list of standards that we think each graduate should know, we have to ensure the student also feels it’s something they should know. Once students have the need-to-know, they will seek the knowledge we wish to impart. 3) Humans will strive to meet the highest of expectations if we hold true to them and do numbers 1 and 2 well.

Each day, ask yourself what you can do to build a community in your classroom, give students a sense of the value of what they are learning, and not accept anything but the best from your students.