We Need to Stop Pretending…#makeschooldifferent

Let’s stop pretending:

That children don’t know what they want and that they can’t be trusted.  Children are born to learn and do know what they want to learn about.  Why can’t we let them follow their passions?  Is it because we don’t trust them?  Do we think they will play video games or do something else we judge as not worthy.  I wonder if traditional school models create conditions that encourage poor behaviour because we are trying to control the behaviour of other human beings through “classroom management”.  Is it possible to be more democratic; can management of behaviour in schools be collaborative?    Democratic schools exist all over the world and they work.  Maybe we can learn from them.  For those who argue that democratic schools only work for the privileged read this.


That we need to group children by age into distinct classrooms with one adult.  Why?  Because it’s convenient and easier.  Why can’t we have a space where children can roam from place to place.  From the garden outside to the science lab to the maker space to the computer lab.  Why can’t we have cosy nooks for reading and day-dreaming.  There is so much possibility if we would only trust.


That we don’t need to have more interventions by true specialists for reading.  Are guided reading and short-term withdrawal really enough for students with learning disabilities?  Would it be possible to give them on-going, consistent, individualised interventions on a daily basis for years?  That can’t be done in a classroom or when a school with hundreds of children and only a few SERTS but can we change the ratio somehow?  See how Kenneth Gordon Maplewood school in North Vancouver works.  Why shouldn’t public school children have access to such effective interventions?

We need to stop pretending that we know what is important for students to learn.  Is content really that important?  Are problem-solving, critical-thinking, communicating and interacting positively with others are more important content knowledge?

That schools don’t play a role in creating bullying situations. Is there something about our wider culture and school cultures that set a stage for bullying situations and behaviour?  Is there something we can do about that within a school?  What is it?  Perhaps more study on these issues is warranted withing the school setting?


Most of all, we need to stop pretending that we can’t do all of this in public education.  Public education is important.  If we change the system will people stop opting out?  In order to do that we need to communicate how things can be different with others.  All citizens need to work together to make it work because it will be messy.  Change is messy.  Learning is messy.  Life is messy.  But life also has the potential to be wondrous.


I want my girls to continue to love learning every day their childhood years (and lives).  Let’s work together to change things so that our children continue to love learning.


I’d like to challenge @peterskillen  @brendasherry @tk1ng @mrswideen @acampell99 to share the five things they think we should stop pretending.

The Joy of Learning?


Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


The other day I was talking with my grade 8 class and the subject of motivation came up.  Someone said that they were motivated to get good marks so they wouldn’t get into trouble with their parents.  I felt a little sad hearing that.  We discussed motivation and grades and I didn’t hear anyone really say anything about being intrinsically motivated at school.

I get it.  I was rarely intrinsically motivated at school.  Nor was I extrinsically motivated by marks since I didn’t care too much most of the time.  Mostly, I was bored.    Not always.  Sometimes a good discussion would happen, or my teacher would tell a story of travel or something (like when my grade 5 teacher told us all about England and Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge).

I find it difficult to keep my own experiences as a student separate from my role as teacher.  I try hard to find activities that deliver the curriculum and engage my students.  That is really hard with 29 students, many of whom who have little interest in math or English (the two subjects I teach).  There are always some who are disengaged.

I would love to try a democratic school system like Sudbury Valley.  I really wonder if it would work in the public system.  If students followed their passions and interests what would happen?

I read lots of other teacher’s blogs to learn from them and to become a better teacher.  I am very reflective of my practice.  I read TapintoTeenMinds by Kyle Pearce every day to help me with grade 8 math.  His ideas (and those of others like Dan Meyer, Mr. Orr and many more) are simply incredible.  I think it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the math concepts.  I wonder though, why is it important to learn math?  Does everyone have to?  I think it’s fun now, but I hated it in school.  Now that I’m intrinsically motivated I’m learning a lot and seeking out learning opportunities on my own.  I think students would be the same.  If they decide they want to learn algebra for some reason, they will.

I was reading Brian Aspinall’s post The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B and I was thinking how much I agree with many of his points, such as “Students who are afraid of – or driven by – marks won’t take risks because it’s not safe.”  I think this is true.  I also think that students who are afraid to look stupid in from of their peers won’t take risks.  Brian goes on to talking about employers and how they will want risk takers, communicators, and problem solvers.  I agree with that also.  But I wonder why we put so much emphasis on employers, 21st Century skills, etc.  What about the joy of learning?

I think marks and planning for careers take away the joy of learning.  We are born to learn.  We are born to love learning.  What happens to us?  Although I think schools are improving, and inquiry-driven planning helps, we are still trying to teach everyone the same thing.  We are trying to make the same material interesting to everyone.  I don’t think this is possible.  I think we can make it more interesting for sure, but we are all different.  We are driven by different passions and interests.

Could we have schools where students follow their interests?  Sudbury Valley schools manage it.  They have answers to all the arguments against them (and for teaching our students a little of everything).  If you are interested in the answers to questions about going to university or writing SATs, etc., check out their FAQ.

If I ran the school system, it would be like democratic schools.  Students would not be sorted by age.  They would be able to roam around the buildings and engage in activities they love.  Music, theater, math, reading, hiking, canoeing, drawing, painting, sculpting, coding, playing video games, biking, sports, astronomy, latin, the classics, playwriting, meditating, inventing, engineering, etc.

What do you think school should look like?

Just to prove I'm motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2.  We were doing Calculus (and we don't even really know what calculus is!)

Just to prove I’m motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2. We were doing Calculus (and we don’t even really know what calculus is!)