Editor’s Note: This article is part of a monthly series from Michele Hill and a rotating guest blogger that shares advice and expertise as educators who demonstrate the importance of working together to help create a school culture of excellence for all students and staff. You can read more great articles by clicking on the ‘Dynamic Synergy’ tag or by clicking here.
By Michele Hill and Valerie Lewis
How many times have you heard one of the following phrases?
- “These kids aren’t the same as back in my day.”
- “Students today are lazy and don’t want to work hard!”
- “Teaching just isn’t the same with today’s kids!
If you’re anything like us, probably countless times. Are kids today really that different? Yes and no. It goes without saying that teaching students of the 2010s and, soon enough, the 2020s, brings and will continue to bring new challenges and necessitates a different approach by both administrators and teachers.
Kids just aren’t “the same,” some of you say. Well, should they be? We live in an age of instant access, where just about everything is digital. We live in a time where computers are palm-sized, the internet is easily accessible to most of us, and the world seems equally as small. The act of swiping as a young toddler is about as natural as holding a bottle for an infant. The skills that are needed to navigate the 21st Century weren’t even a thought three decades ago. So remind me again why the expectation for students today should be a mirror of those in the past? Times have changed — and we all need to change with them.
This may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but just as we’ve adapted to using the internet, having mobile phones, and doing business using new tools, we also have to modernize our curriculum to fit the needs of our new learners. We can’t expect what was good for the goose is also good for the gander. Professional development alone can’t do the trick, but having a connection and inner desire to help students maximize their full potential is key. School districts must offer ongoing and spiral professional development that allows staff to gain competency with new technology and resources to stay abreast of current trends and initiatives. Stepping out of our comfort zones as educators and into the time portals where our students reside is an integral part of teaching today’s students.
So, what does that look like? Start by having conversations with students about their future goals and dreams. In order to know where one is going, we must know where they’ve been and where they stand now. Dialogue journals – discussed in depth by Jennifer Gonzalez on the Cult of Pedagogy here – are one way to establish connections with students. This may remind you of what Ms. Gruwell did with her students in the movie Freedom Writers. Certainly, it will require more of time, which is already limited, but the return on investment is well worth it. As soon as you begin to notice the strengths and passions of your students, you will begin to find ways in which you can integrate new ideas and practices into your classroom, align standards accordingly in order to assess skills, and build after school programs that bring additional stakeholders into the equation.
The pairing of resources across mediums in order to bring life, meaning, and relevance to the lesson is key; kids always want to know why. This isn’t just a 4-year-old curiosity walk; the same holds true even at the age 16. It is our job as educators to make sure our classrooms do not feel isolated from the rest of the world. Whether you and your students are discussing global issues, something historic, or even controversial, you should, as a class, read and view fiction and nonfiction texts, graphic images, magazine articles, website or blog posts, political cartoons and technology integration to broaden the perspective of each learner and encourage their independent thinking.
Make no mistake about it, technology is here to stay and has a stronghold on the delivery of education. Teachers need to embrace that reality to maximize student success.
Many educators have the fear that teachers will one day be replaced by machines. This isn’t true at all. There is solid data that shows the teacher-student relationship is still the most important variable for student success. There is value to the human connection that a robot cannot replicate, but with all that being said, teachers can maximize the use of technology in the classroom and augment the amount of learning happening. Students can tap into their interests, while also learning from you in a relevant way and meeting school assessment requirements. Skills can be taught in an authentic way that still allows you to meet the expectations of your school administration and district leaders benchmarks and goals. To ensure that you are aligning your lessons to the core standards embraced by your school, district or state, check out your local Department of Education web page to find resources that can help. You can also connect with others through Professional Learning Networks and Communities to discover innovative ways to reach students.
The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child should certainly ring truer today than ever before. Somewhere in between then and now, the message has become that the teacher is solely responsible for a student’s education because the teacher is seemingly the only one formally evaluated in the process. Though we understand that teacher effectiveness greatly impacts student outcome, this work cannot be done alone. It takes other members of the community to fully extend a student’s learning beyond the textbooks and classroom.
Many local public schools conduct a schoolwide Boy Scouts of America survey which reveal interests of students. This helps counselors and administrators to develop career pathways and programs for students during the day, as well as build community school programs after hours. Programs like Pros in Training (The P.I.T.) in Georgia are preparing learners to become industry professionals in the entertainment industry. That program and others are using Georgia’s growing film industry to their advantage by providing students with the opportunity to learn and apply their skills.
These are just a few examples of how the community at large can help teachers cross the bridge to educate today’s students in ways that matter. Educating our students does indeed take a village. The importance of family and community to schools everywhere can’t be understated. Every time you are able to connect the school community to the larger community and the world, you are creating opportunities for genuine collaboration, authentic learning, and meaningful relationships.
“So, instead of talking about how kids nowadays need to change, let’s talk about how schools can change to meet the needs of kids today.”David Geurin
About the authors
Michele Hill is a passionate educator who is the Coordinator of Admissions and Communications at Burlington County Institute of Technology. Hill has long been a champion for struggling and impoverished students. She has penned guest blogs for ASCD Inservice, McGraw Hill, Principal Leadership, Teacher Tool Kit UK, Edweek, and ASCD Road Tested. She is the host of DisrupteEdTv Teacher Sparks and producer of DisruptEdTV School Spotlight. Follow Michele on Twitter @HillMrispo or visit her blog: spiritededucator.blogspot.com
Valerie Lewis is an assistant principal in Gwinnett County, GA with a background in Special Education across elementary and high school aged students. Lewis is known for creating educational programming to include the community so that students have authentic and meaningful learning experiences beyond the classroom. Her passion for education can be seen shining bright in digital communities such as Pass the Scope Edu, Hacking Diversity and Teacherpreneur and this enables her to shine a light on diversity, equity and inclusion. You can follow Valerie on all social platforms @iamvlewis