Mar 29, 2011

How to Employ Student Potential

A student asks "Ey G, can I erase the whiteboard?" In past years, I'd be reluctant. After all, the whiteboard is sacred teacher space. This year, though, I've allowed myself to trust: "Sure, go ahead."

It started with the little things. Writing down the learning target and the homework assignment, collecting homework, passing out handouts, erasing the whiteboard, and picking up the phone. The more and more I let go, the more and more I realized: students LOVE to do the teaching duties I HATE.

So, we create a structure where their volunteership becomes official. G's employees - classroom jobs for the willing. I'm surprised to see hands shoot up in the air after I describe the duties of our "HW Returner." Wow, they're really into this. I may have struck gold in my 4th year of teaching.


Fast forward from September to February. My Assistant Principal invites me to his room and requests that I join a team flying to Oregon in a (dun, dun, dun!) all-expenses paid, work trip! (My eyes sparkle - "Me?" I ask "You want me?") I'm privileged to join 4 other teachers, 3 admin, and a few district heads to an SLC conference in McMinville. I revel in the opportunity to step back from the daily grind of teaching to pick brains and collectively brainstorm the future of our high school.

I'm SMH'ing myself at my neglect to my edublogosphere. I should share more of my revelations, experiences, and observations this epic 4th year. (Note: If I stay in teaching for life, I may look back at this year as the one that did it for me.) My experiences in McMinville are some that must be shared. Amongst these things -

There, I witnessed an employment of student potential at even grander levels. I thought it was great that my students volunteered to do measly classroom tasks. Well, in McMinville, I witnessed:
  • A cooking class that catered for any school function requiring a meal (I'm talking restaurant quality)
  • A student-run kinkos where teachers could drop off templates to be copied and picked up at a later time or date.
  • A store with merchandise all designed and sold by students, where business is managed, budgeted and ran by students.
  • A snack bar with a similar setup.
  • An in-house bank with students as tellers.
  • A day care center ran by students.
  • A school garden beautifying campus, maintained by students.
  • Performing arts courses where students are called upon to perform and provide entertainment.
Student enterprises left and right! While administrators may wince at the idea of budgeting off money to hire personell to run any of the above, McMinville found a way to do it for free.

The 'free-ness' is not what's important though. What I love is that they've found a way to tap into their student potential.

Students are allowed a space for their talents and creativity to thrive in a real world context. Rather than digging their noses into textbooks every hour of every day, these students are given an opportunity to bring relevance to their learning experience - mirroring what they may see in a future job.

Don't believe me? See here:

Ladies and gentlemen, that is of 5-star restaurant quality.

Here's Orphal making a withdrawal from students on-campus.

Got a younger brother or sister you need to take care of, why not bring them to the in-school day-care!


Fast forward from February to April and we are in the midst of programming what we plan to implement for next year. The latest of these employing a similar philosophy of 'classroom student jobs' and 'McMinville's student enterprises.' If we're looking to change the culture of our school, why not let the students make it happen. I like it. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Jason Buell said...

Orphal! I just met him this weekend at the ASCD conference. We hung out a bit in the press room and talked smack about Jay Mathews. Good times. I didn't realize you were at the same school. Seems like you have a really good good group over there.