[Before getting into the post itself, I just wanted to thank Scott McLeod for inviting me to be a part of LeaderTalk. As more and more administrators start to blog, it is my hope that this project is able to increase the level of transparency of our schools, open up the discussion about school design and school sustainability, and be a place where educational leaders of all stripes can tackle many of the issues we face as we move our schools into the 21st century.]
As we talk about reforming education and building 21st Century schools, I think it's important not to let all the talk be about the tools or even about project-based learning, but that we take a look at a deeper notion of student-centered schools. In most common usage, the term "student-centered" means that the work of the classroom involves student-ideas, student-passion, student-questions. And that's amazing stuff, but that only begins to really explore what the phrase can mean.
For me, "student-centered" goes beyond what happens on any given project or in any one classroom. It has to speak deeply to the idea that our students' lives are the most important thing at the school. We have to care about who are students are, who they want to be, who they can be. At our school -- the Science Leadership Academy -- the first qualification after "Must have PA certification" is "Applicants must be committed to the idea that we teach students first and our subjects second." That, to me, is the heart of what it means to be student-centered. The best pedagogical writing about this idea that I've ever found is done by Nel Noddings who writes about the ethic of care.
But how do you manifest the ethic of care in a school? Where does it live? For me, it's about creating an Advisory or Family Group class. How do we insure that we see kids as more than just students
of the subject we teach? We build into our schedule a class where we are the curriculum. We build into every teacher's schedule time where they have a group of 15-20 students, not as students of a subject, but as people. And we give that time priority by including it as one of our teachers' preps. And we model how important Advisory is by being advisors ourselves.
The 21st Century school needs more than just technology, and it needs more than classes where student ideas are valued. As our society gets more complex, as the choices confronting our students get harder and harder, our schools must live by the ethic of care, so that every student knows that there are adults who will be her advocate, who will listen and who will value her thoughts, her ideas, who she is, and who she can become.
For those wondering how a school might structure an Advisory curriculum, be sure to look at The Advisory Guide: Designing and Implementing Effective Advisory Programs in Secondary Schools published by Educators for Social Responsibility.