In my work as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, I am frequently included in the planning of lessons. Most recently, I was discussing an upcoming lesson on civil rights and developing how we could educate students in their individual freedoms and rights. Would a novel be an appropriate vehicle for developing understanding? A movie? Or, what about a guiding question: “Which rights should be guaranteed to all humans?” Follow-up questions could get students to begin thinking about the role that government plays in ensuring those rights, the role the global community plays (or doesn’t play) in enforcing those rights, and to what extent should the citizenry of a nation be involved?
This got me thinking about the educational environment our students are in today. What are the inalienable rights that every educator should ensure for their students? Are there things we should be fighting for in our classrooms and if so, why aren’t we? I don’t wish to ‘hand down’ the definitive Student Bill of Rights of what should or should not be guaranteed, but I do think it’s worthy of discussion. With Getting Smart, we focus on innovations in learning. I believe it’s important to understand that as we explore innovations we must understand the foundation on which we educate from. Here are some starters, and I’d love for you to leave your suggestions in the comments.
1. Every student should be and feel safe. There should never be a time when a student feels unsafe emotionally, physically, or intellectually. We should be providing the means for learners to thrive, which is difficult to do when they are on the defensive. The fears of failure, physical harm, and emotional abuse are preventing too many students from finding new life in the halls of our schools. New learning requires risk, boldness, and courage. None of which are fostered when students afraid.
2. Every student should be given the opportunity to learn. This isn’t just a statement about the continued need for universal education, but also for extending the boundaries so that students falling behind in the system are accounted for and still provided with a pathway to learning. Every student needs a time and a place that facilitates their learning with content that matters by teachers who care. Many, many schools are doing a great job of this and almost every school does this for a percentage of their students. But we need to keep pushing for every student in every school. No exceptions.
3. Every student should be able to learn in the way that best suits their specific needs.Technology is disrupting our classrooms. We have the opportunity to leverage it. We have the opportunity to move towards IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) for every student. Shouldn’t every learner have a plan in place that is custom to them, their needs, and even their preferences? Shouldn’t every learner be able to move at their specific pace of learning? Shouldn’t every learner be given the tools, environment, and instruction that best represents maximum learning and learning efficiency?
4. Every student deserves pedagogical excellence. Put another way, our students deserve for teachers to be lead-learners. As cultures, students, and technologies change, so must our pedagogy. The way we teach matters a great deal and if we are to truly follow through with #3 (above), we must make sure that we, as educators, are committed to on-going, continual learning to improve our own methods. This isn’t about the next cool tool/website/app, but instead the ways that we can create better learning environments and conditions for our students. How, specifically, will our students learn and how, specifically, are we structuring their environment(s) to facilitate reaching that goal?
5. Every student should be given the chance to demonstrate mastery.
There is so much to cover, so much our students need to know. There is an unending stream of information that we can’t possibly keep up with and standards that are constantly on the rise. Rather than simply moving on and leaving a knowledge gap, I propose that our students be given opportunity after opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a way that is going to represent their best efforts. We must change the way we think about grades and grading practices and move from “D’s get degrees” to a mentality of continual learning (see #4 above). To be sure, this is not an easy change to make, but if we, as adults, truly care about our students as future voters, business owners, lawmakers, and taxpayers, wouldn’t you rather see an entire generation of people that don’t give up when they don’t know the answer? Wouldn’t you rather see grit and perseverance instead of passivity?
In nearly every instance where civil rights have been at the heart of the issue, people have been willing to lose their lives for the cause. While I’m not suggesting that blood must be shed to protect the learning of our students, the case could be made that more of us (educators) should be willing to lose our jobs in defense of these rights. For those rights that make us uncomfortable, I hope that you question from where is the source of your discomfort. Are you more concerned with your own preferences? Or for students to learn?
What do you think about these? What would you add or remove? Remember that our own Constitutional Bill of Rights was not forged without strife and so should we set about the difficult task of determining what we are willing to promise our learners in their pursuit of a better future.