Students aren’t stupid

This morning on This Week in Ontario Edublogs, a couple of blog posts got me inspired for this. (More about them on Friday morning)

  1. From Matthew Morris who provided a great list of ways to be inclusive with Black students, this was number 7

    Instead of diving into curriculum during the first week of the school year, use this time to engage with students in ways that create authentic relationships.
  2. From Paul McGuire, this chart outlining the risks of an individual in groups of various sizes by the size of the group

Both of these gentlemen had terrific thinking points. My head was spinning when I first read them and I continue to think about them.

I’ll recognize right up front that my background is at the secondary school level and the challenges/maturity that appears there.

The Ministry of Education has laid out its plans for the province; school districts were to have their plans ready for yesterday; soon schools will be required to act on them. Ultimately, the classroom teacher will do the best for her/his classroom.

There’s another partner is all that and that is the student. They’ve had a tough time finishing off the last school year. They may not readily admit it, but they’re wanting to get back to school. To this date, while the Premier indicates that their safety is his priority, their voice hasn’t been heard.

The key to remember in all this is that they’re not stupid. Like you and me, they’ve had their lives turned upside down and are looking for their “new normal”. (Gawd, I hate that term but it is realistic, I suppose.)

I read this article this morning:

Images of student crowds raise questions in Georgia schools

Except for the colour of the hallways, that could be any secondary school anywhere. I’ve seen that image so many ways standing in my doorway between class changes.

If there’s anything good about these stories and more like this from our friends to the south, it’s that they’re back in school now or soon trying out various formats and options. Our Ministry and School Districts would be neglectful is they’re not devouring all this information with an eye toward making Ontario’s plans better. Maybe they’re even paying special attention to former TDSB Director John Malloy as he starts a new position with the San Ramon Walley Unified School District.

I remember once, in my first year of teaching, supervising an event at the school. The double gym was open and the 50-60 teachers were there supervising the entire school population. I was “guarding” a door with an English teacher to make sure that nobody escaped. I still remember his comment “kids are basically good; if this many ever decided to attack, we’d never have a chance.” I looked around at the 1200 students and gulped. I know I was a rookie and being played, but still …

From the article about Georgia schools

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”

That’s got to make you laugh if you’re a teacher. Schools have all kinds of rules that students follow and they don’t necessarily have to be enforced all the time. Deep down inside, most students want to be at school and wouldn’t do things to jeopardize that. I know, I know, there are a few. But they are a few.

The other thing that doesn’t get enough appreciation is that many of the rules are actually enforced by their peers.

So, circling way back to those two gentlemen and their blog posts above. That first week of school, we know, is a make or break week. This year, I would argue, it’s going to be more important than ever. If we look at the chart that Paul shared, there’s a great deal of mathematics and statistics in there and that’s a good thing. Even the less proficient will be able to identify the colours and the relative sizes of the numbers. Those who know their geography know that there are no formal walls around public health units or counties. They know that there are stories behind those red units. They probably know and understand them and know that they don’t want to risk their personal health by making their school go into the red.

There will be new school rules to be sure. They’re going to be important but validated by statistics, they take on a new importance. More than ever, it will be important to listen to their concerns and fears. Maybe even more importantly, listen to their suggestions about how to make things even better and safer for themselves and their friends. It may even be that, given a day or two back, that they look around and see that it’s just not working and ask to learn at home.

To quote Matthew, these are the “authentic relationships” that are going to be so important. Students and teachers are in that relationship together. The quote from Matthew is applied differently from his original intent but it serves to reinforce the wisdom of those words. The rest of this month and the beginning of next are going to be like no other. Everyone will want the best of starts possible. No one person is going to be an island in all this. Everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction.


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