Much is said about students who excel at the ‘game of school’. This game is played when students collect points to earn grades without concentrating on what is truly important – learning. Educators don’t want students associating learning with point collection and compliant behavior. This game skews the focus for kids and evokes fear along with a competitive environment where there are winners and losers. How does one exactly win at school? Straight As? More than 100 percent? And losing…is it an F? Learning is not a game, it is life.
But are teachers playing a game as well? Are they waiting to be told what to do by administration, because of fear with evaluation and job security? Do they seek the one set of best practices that will work for every class period, every day so that all kids are treated equally and district initiatives are met? The focus on learning gets warped for teachers as well – especially when they feel overwhelmed and backed into a corner with demands from ‘higher up’. Sometimes I wonder how many classrooms have both sides not only playing their roles in the game but playing them really well. I also wonder what knowledge, understandings, and skills these students are carrying forward once the directions for the game have been read and everyone is following the rules.
I am positive that I played the game of teaching at certain points in my classroom experience. I was guilty of doing what I felt I needed to do for the people outside my environment rather than making sure I was working to meet the needs of those within it. I always cared about my kids, but didn’t realize what the ‘game of school’ was with regard to my students or my teaching. Here is the tricky part – when the game is being played well on both sides…boy, does it look good. Kids are compliant, the teacher is in control, everything is in order. Or is it? Is student learning in order? Probably not.
How do we reduce the ‘game of school’ on both sides? How can we help both students and teachers see the game for what it is and move beyond?
This week I had the fortunate experience of speaking with the Power of ICU team in Nashville, Tennessee. We were at John Early Museum Magnet Middle School in the heart of the city. Our team of Danny Hill, Jayson Nave, Sherri Nelson, and Cory Crosnoe were fabulous to work with as we talked about building a Brick House culture within a school where students complete quality assignments, have plenty of support throughout the process, and teachers move toward healthier grading practices.
In our opening session, one focus area for Danny was the idea of clearing our plates. This was a moment of great reflection for me. There are so many things we put on our plates that we have no control over. However, the only item that should remain is student learning. It is a decision that is very difficult to make when so many other things loom over us, especially at the beginning of the school year. Our time is so valuable and pulled in so many directions, we have to be careful what we spend it on. But we must keep one vital thing in mind – student learning is the most important feature in our lives as educators. Our concentration must center on forming those key relationships with kids and bringing our passion to school every day.
Because here’s the thing…the kids are coming!
The kids need us to clear our plates for them. The kids are coming regardless of whether the school is ready. The kids are coming no matter what initiatives we are handed or what curriculum we were given to write at the last minute. The kids are coming even though we have not had enough time to plan or get our classrooms ready. The kids are coming…
As I reflect on past school years, this was a constant battle. Things outside my control kept working their way onto my plate and I had to fight to remove them. I didn’t control that I had 32 kids in my room with extremely varied readiness and 45 minutes to work with them. I couldn’t control all the federal and state mandates that attempted to weigh me down. I couldn’t control the fact that it was 95 degrees and humid outside and for many years I didn’t have air conditioning. The list could go on and on. But what I realized as I thought back was when I walked into my classroom, I cleared my plate. I set the stage for learning and left everything else by the wayside. This was what I had control over, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice anything for my kids. In a sense, I felt very protective of our environment and couldn’t allow anything to deter us from learning.
So let go of it all. Don’t let outside factors get in the way of forming essential relationships with our kids and bringing passion to our classrooms. Decide what you do have control over and own it. Remember…
…the kids are coming!
A special thank you goes out to Danny Hill for inspiring this post.