What do you do when the students have quit caring after years of the urban factory model and the teachers have been turned into cops instead of the movie version of a teacher they had hoped to be?
How do we ever get to the vision when the mission itself seems rigged against ever doing anything other than enforcing the rules, dangling the carrots, waving the sticks, and seeking, always, compliance?
That’s the problem that a few of us helping to run the school found ourselves in this afternoon after the rest of the staff had gone home. How do we lead us towards what we could be when we’re so absolutely trapped in how we are? There is no doubt that the job our teachers face is one of the toughest on the planet. Our students, filled with potential and all the great stuff that make teenagers such a great group to work with, have been worksheeted, quizzed, detentioned, and suspended into basically not caring anymore. I can’t tell you the staggering number of times I hear a student say that they “don’t care” about any variety of things that actually matter in the mission of any school. It’s gotten to the point that when I see a student with their curiosity and wonder still in tact I catch myself openly staring at them like they’re some kind of unicorn. How does a kid still care, still have a drive, when so many others around them have had it taken from them? How does a kid hold and maintain their spark, that inner something that rejects giving in and giving up? I really don’t know. I really don’t.
But the problem isn’t how they got this way, it’s how we get out from it. If Design Lab Early College High School is going to be what it could, we have to really start focussing on getting the kids to start caring. Maybe if that happens we can reignite some of the flames all too soon extinguished or on the verge of going out. Maybe if that happens the teachers could reposition themselves as agents of curiosity, engagement, and productivity because they’ll have students who are invested in the whole purpose of learning. Maybe if we started to give kids things to actually care about we could take a small step towards where we’d like to be as a school.
Our students shouldn’t care because we tell them to, they should do it because they just do, because caring, learning, and growth aren’t something to be enforced but something to be nurtured and brought out. These things are innate. So the first step has to do something, I think, with an appeal to the natural benefits of learning, caring and growth.
The first step might be giving the kids explicit license to care, to bestow upon them something to care about because it gives them the room to step into the benefits that come with showing you care about learning and growth. It seems like a good place to start.
So we’re going to start by celebrating and certifying our students who are showing some level of mastery and caring in the makerspace and music studio. Once our kids reach that level, they’re given even more room to engage and care about their learning and growth in these spaces. They will be recognized as someone who knows what they’re doing. They’ll have opportunities to mentor their peers and to be given more freedom and leeway to work on their own projects. Eventually, those we recognize and celebrate will become the leaders of our crews, leaders of their own crews for projects, and the caring, growing, and learning agents of their own success. I’m thinking smocks and starter jackets.
Everybody wants to run their own crew. Running a crew means agency, autonomy, and mastery. It means all of the things that are the antidote to the frustration of the problem that presented itself today. It’s a first step. A small one. We’ll see how it goes.