The GAME of School
Recently I received a piece of mail that made me pause. I opened the bulky manila envelope and pulled out the packet of papers. Instantly I could tell the package was full of older documents. Then I read the hand-written note at the top of the packet.
"Ben, we are purging old documents and we thought you'd like your transcript and file."
Interesting enough, I put the documents back in the folder and didn't look at them for nearly two months.
Then for some reason I decided to go through the packet. I studied my high school transcripts. I re-read the comments. I chuckled at some of my class choices. Next up, I sifted through my middle school career. Finally I finished up by looking at my elementary notes.
The first thing I'd like to share is, I was NOT the model student. As I prepared to begin kindergarten all the notes had concerns. I was recommended for an additional year of Pre-K and then I was recommend to repeat kindergarten. Evidently I was NOT where I needed to be as a five year old.
Second, if you look at the comments they ranged from good all-around student to capable of doing better. One can only imagine how these two comments could be attached to the same student...hmmm.
Third, as I completed 7th grade I was ranked 34th out of 86 students. Pretty much middle of the pack. As I graduated high school my final ranking was 16th out of 68. From an outsiders vantage point that would be considered acceptable. However, closer detail showed something a bit different.
Looking back at the classes I took from 7th through 12th grade I immediately saw a pattern. In some classes I played the game. I complimented my teachers, I raised my hand, I stayed after to get support, I was polite and friendly. In other rooms, with other teachers, I didn't, play the game. I was distant, I attempted to fly under the radar and quite often did just enough to get by.
For those wondering, I didn't experience a traumatic event and I was generally an upbeat, happy kid. The answer isn't as difficult as one may try and make it. My success came down to personal connections and respect. If I connected and respected my teacher I played the game and in turn, I almost always received an A or a B. The flip side was, sometimes I didn't respect my teacher and therefore, I didn't play the game. In these classes I would struggle to get to the 80% mark. Often times these classes ended up being C's and occasionally a D.
My frustration with school is that I do believe the game still occurs.
This is why school is fractured. Educator bias, subjectivity and final grades that still reflect attitude and effort happen all too often.
The solution? Let's STOP the Game of School. Here are some solutions -
Solution 1 - Eliminate the archaic system of grading. If you are still averaging percentages the simple question is why? Research and current best practice show a tremendous shift to standard based grading or competency based grading. This goes for all levels of education. Here is an article to reinforce this solution. Click here.
Solution 2 - Compliance should not equal academic success. Some of the greatest achievements have come from individuals that were willing to be disruptive. Yet, the school system of today rewards compliance and negatively labels disruptors. Don't believe me? Check out what Thomas Edison's teacher said about him... Thomas Edison, brilliant scientist and inventor, was thrown out of school at age 12 because he was terrible at math and unable to focus. His teacher said, ‘he was too stupid to learn anything.’
Solution 3 - Learning MUST become more personalized. Teaching to the middle or giving a one size fits all, all the time, is poor practice. This method widens the gap between haves and have nots, it also reinforces the Game of School Approach. If schools don't shift to a more individualized method they are doing a disservice to a large population of students. Need more information on Personalized Learning? Click here.
Solution 4 - Schools must create more authentic forms of learning. Task management and busy work do not engage high levels of learning. They reinforce compliance. Too often schools supply a heavy load of work to occupy students and stifle creativity. The best forms of authentic learning are intertwined with projects and service learning. This type of learning can appear messy, but it also makes the teacher more of a facilitator. Check out this post. Teach the Way You Wish You Were Taught
Solution 5 - Reward the best educators. Do we really still use pay scales to have everyone in lock step? What my experiences have taught me is, not all people are the same. Some doctors are better than others. Some lawyers are better than others. Some educators are better than others. Can you imagine if education was (in a small way) similar to athletics? Free Agency? Signing Bonuses? Multi-Year Contracts? If the system encouraged greatness you would see more people driving their own professional development. You'd see more people challenging the Status Quo. You would see more people motivated to stay in education because they are great...not simply reaching for the finish line.
Okay, maybe solution five is a pipe dream. But think about it, do you truly believe all educators should be paid similarly?
Ultimately, I'm fed up with the Game of School. In classrooms across the country a student that looks the part, acts the part, is polite and puts forth effort will likely be rewarded. It makes me wonder, are most schools designed to reward extroverts?
Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.