Saturday, August 23, 2014

Groundhog Day

Somewhere along the way, someone convinced American society that breadth is far more important than depth. That same person also convinced everyone that academics and enjoyment are two different things. In their minds, students should have their nose in the books, cramming for a big test, and praying that nothing weird happens to throw them off on the test day. This has come to be known as rigor. I would like to find that person, point my finger at them aggressively, and say, "shame on you."

There is nothing wrong with research, reading a crazy amount of books (one of my favorite past times), and studying all night for a test. But when this kind of activity arbitrarily takes the place of hands on, practical, experience based learning, there is something wrong. It is no wonder our drop out rates are high in both high school and college. Kids have at least 13 years of the same thing over and over. We are still functioning on an industrial education model and an agrarian calendar that says, all students learn the same, curriculum should be separated into subjects that don't intersect, and everyday should be broken up into periods that end and being with a bell. This model makes it extremely difficult to foster creativity, cross curricular work, hands on learning, and spontaneity.

Admittedly, as a principal and a teacher, I struggle to break from this model. Our whole education system is built upon it. But what we should be asking ourselves is, "how can I break up the monotony and avoid education groundhog day?" We can start by getting with other teachers and planning to do projects that involve more than just one area of content and one skill. We can have our students work together collaboratively (with a productive structure) to accomplish big goals. We can change our bell schedule every so often to allow for creative time, outdoor activities, field trips, and more. In other words we can make school feel more like life.

We all have an idea of college and high school that is strong in our minds. We base our perception of education on our experience. However, just because we learned a certain way and had to go through high school according to a certain pattern, doesn't mean it is what is right for our students today. In fact it means the opposite. If we teach like we have been taught, then we have failed. Because we teach in a new context, with new students, and a new reality of how the world functions.

Fun, spontaneity, creativity, outdoor activity, group work, and projects does not mean that the work is not rigorous. It simply means that the students are engaged and involved. Sure, this will not always be the case, but just like you and I, when we enjoy something, we are more likely to work harder for it. It is time for us to break free from Groundhog Day. Leading is Teaching.


  1. Excellent remarks! Since we cannot change this entrenched system easily, we need to hack it. I'm an elementary teacher, so schedules and periods are an abstraction to me. Interdisciplinary activities come more easily as well.

  2. Thanks for this post, Daniel. For too many of our students, academics and enjoyment are separate entities...

  3. I agree with both of you. Teaching our students to be passionate about what interests them will make them far more successful than teaching them to be disinterested in what we tell them is important. They will also learn to work hard for what they care about if we use it as a vehicle to teach them skills.