The Reflection Pool

“Why Would I Want to Learn from Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Learn from Me?”

This is a powerful quote from an Ontario student on the Minister’s Student Advisory Council. It challenges every educator to think about what students have to teach us. It uncovers the power differential inherent in today’s schooling model.  It points the way to a real interaction between teacher and student where ideas are respected and where communication is two way.

Art by Liisa Sorsa and Disa Kauk. The graphic was created by the Minister's Student Advisory Council for 2013-14.
Art by Liisa Sorsa and Disa Kauk. The graphic was created by the Minister’s Student Advisory Council for 2013-14.

When I was a teacher, I tried to give students a voice in my (notice the adjective? I didn’t start using “our” instead of “my” until much later) classroom by incorporating some choice and collaboration. After I read Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, I wanted to make the classroom more of a community where we learned from each other. I did my best, but I’m not really sure how successful I was.

Every teacher, educational assistant, principal and superintendent I know has endured a deadly professional development session. You know the kind – where you want to poke your eyes out with a pencil. I’ve heard people complain about presenters being the “sage on the stage”, or about the “sit and git” model, or about Health and Safety compliance modules and the tests that accompany them.

These days, when I go into some classrooms and see students sitting passively in rows and listening to the teacher, or doing worksheets, or writing a 90 minute test, I wonder if teachers look at their classroom through students’  eyes. Can we look at our classrooms and meeting spaces with the same critical eye we bring to those bad PD sessions?

Here is the big question: would you want to sit in your classroom 100% of the time? Would you want to attend your meeting? Would you want to be in your professional learning session? And before you say that everything can’t be “fun” all of the time, I’ll agree, but I will say that everything should offer a way to become interesting by beginning where people are, embedding ideas into their real work and through interaction.

Listening to what students and others have to say to us can be hard. And really listening often means we have to change. Even though I’m not in schools, I often think about how to solicit and respond to feedback from all the people I work with. I know I’m not always going to hear positive things, but I also know that I can learn from their ideas.

Teaching is a very challenging profession. I can pretty much guarantee, however, that if you act on student feedback, you’ll find your job more fun and more satisfying.

2 thoughts on ““Why Would I Want to Learn from Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Learn from Me?”

  1. Sue, thanks for another great post! I find this post particularly interesting as this year, we’re really focusing as a school on “student voice” and “student choice.” I always thought that I was pretty good at both of these areas, but this year, I realized how much I didn’t really listen to what students wanted or what they thought. I’ve tried many times this year to ask students to honestly share what they think of a lesson or activity or unit. I’ll admit that I’m often nervous to hear their responses, but hearing their thoughts are good, and I listen to them as well (and we make changes based on their ideas). They realize that they have a real voice in the classroom, and I think that’s important. And I realize that not every lesson can be “fun,” but I do try to find a way to make them enjoyable. It’s good for the students and it’s good for me!

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this. Thanks for starting the conversation!


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