Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student-Centered Education?

Buzz words run up my spine when they are thrown around. I'm not saying I don't see value in the concepts but there always seems to be cyclical educational buzz words that become in vogue for a while and then go out of style. Because of this, these words all come with connotations to each of us and what I have found is we don't always respond or think the same way because of our own interpretations. Student-centered can be one of those words. To some this means a Montessori approach to education where teachers "encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order." (, for others can mean just being mindful that the purpose of education is not about the education itself but about the student. Of course there are varying ideas in between. I do believe in the value of school systems having their own meaningful language so that everyone is on the same page.

That being said, I've had a few things happen in the last couple of days that make me really think about what I think Student-Centered should mean. As a huge fan of personalized learning, I believe that plays a big part in what I think the education process should be. Creating opportunities to meet the individual student's needs instead of the class as a whole is the future of education through the leveraging of technology. But student-centered is something much more basic to me than that. When decisions are being made in the context of impacting our students directly, I believe it should always be run through a screen of "is this product/person/pedagogy/plan good for the student?" Sometimes in today's world we see decisions made that make it easier on the institution or teacher. When ideas are put forth it is the natural instinct for us to ask "how does this impact me and the way I teach?" I know I struggle with not going there first when dealing with change. I also know I have made choices that actually have been harder for me as an educator because it was what I thought was what was best for the students. Student-centered also means growing that child through opportunities that might make a process harder in the long run for me as an educator. For instance, allowing voice and choice in how they share their learning, or creating opportunities for students to represent the voice of their peers in strategic meetings regarding school policies. Student-centered for me also means asking a kid, "how could I have made that lesson better?" and valuing their feedback.

This really hit home big to me today when I found out my oldest daughter was sitting in one of her final exams that she had stayed up late to study for and the professor tapped her on the shoulder and said "you have an A, you don't have to take this exam." Happily, Jessica jumped up and left the test but she texted me and said "I wish he would have told me I didn't have to take it sooner, but it was a nice surprise!" I asked her why she didn't know and she said he hadn't posted all the assignments before the exam so she wasn't 100% sure where she stood. Quite honestly I was ticked. This is a kid that is taking a full load in college and working 30+ hours a week as a manager in our family donut shop. How student-centered was the fact that she had to study for the exam, then show up, and be in process of taking the exam before knowing she didn't have to take the test?

Everyday we teach students that are being molded into their future adult selves. Allowing them some autonomy, creating visions with them, guiding through mentorship, and teaching them how to become lifelong learners without us there is imperative because they are constantly bombarded in a world that doesn't value anyone very well. I think it is key for us to always be asking ourselves if the decisions we are making today by procrastinating, having a fixed mindset, or having our own agenda are truly what is best for the student. Students are the reason we chose to go into education. As a brilliant coworker Matt Monahan said, "teaching is a great way to value people over things." My prayer is that I am ever mindful of that statement.