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By Chance or By Change: Allowing the "Why?"

“You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” – Jim Rohn

Last week I read “Why?” Can Make Change Possible by Shawn Blankenship. Even though his words were from an administrator’s point of view, I started to think about how I manage my own “Why?” students in the classroom. Do I treat them as a nuisance instead of an opportunity to learn? Do I take offense and consider the question an insult? More importantly, do I encourage my students to offer an opinion and voice in how they receive their own education?

In a test driven educational system, there are high stakes and little time to hold Q & A. The focus on test scores have put a value on our teaching abilities and the effectiveness of our administration. Because of the jobs and reputations in jeopardy by the mood our students bring to school on testing day, studies of best practices and highlights of what successful schools do differently are flooding educational literature and media. Many administrators push anything and everything on teachers to raise test scores and appear successful. Teachers feel like they are puppets in a classroom that is no longer theirs. Little by little the potential to become master’s of their profession is restricted. Like Shawn said, if administrators do not listen to their staff and answer their concerns, it could limit any real change. Even more detrimental to the absence of change is eliminating what can come from change, success.

With that in mind, the pressure put on administrators and teachers is having a negative affect on students. Teachers have objectives to cover and state tests to prepare for. There is little time to answer students’ questions of “Why?” unless the answer to the “Why?” is on the state test. Students are eliminated from the educational process that begins and ends with them. They have little to no voice on the material they are told to learn and the way they are forced to learn it.

It is crazy to think we can decide how EVERY student should learn. We may make modifications or spend extra time re-teaching material for some, but our methods of instruction are usually the same. We often create projects and lessons we think are great, but blow up in our face. We get upset and blame our students for the failed lesson that didn’t engage them. But how much of our instruction is student initiated and directed? How confident are we that our methods are effective for today’s learner? If given the chance, do we change course because a student asked “Why?” and offered a better alternative?

Our students are experts on how they learn best. Unfortunately, they are a resource that is too often left unused. We pull from our PLN, Twitter, Edcamps and other means of Professional Development to help us become better in our profession. How often do we use our students for professional growth?

I began with a quote by motivational speaker and best-selling author, the late Jim Rohn. I wish Rohn’s words were plastered on our walls and written in our handbooks. I want my students to evaluate the job I do as a teacher. If I’m not passing Rohn’s test, I need to change what I am doing. But most importantly, they need to be included in the discussion. Their future is too important to leave it to chance and the decisions of an educational system many believe is failing them. The questions our students ask us to answer could be a start to the change we want to see in our classrooms.

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Comment by dillonka on April 3, 2012 at 6:48pm

If we don't teach students to ask "why," we teach them nothing. If you tell a kid to stop questioning, you tell him his voice does not matter. You tell him his curiosity is unwanted. You tell him that answers are not valid if they are not written in the answer key.

If testing truly interrupts this vital element of teaching--and I think it does--we need to ask ourselves WHY we are doing it and if it's worth it.


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