Sunday, May 14, 2017

Who Are Schools For?

Some things students say can just stick with you.

I clearly recall a moment that occurred the week of midterms for our elementary students this semester. I haven’t given tests as of the past few years, and it’s during spring that we have a cool movie-making project. During this time when students were motivated, interested, and able to use their creativity came events that the students dread. It was on one of the days the week of approaching the midterms that a student said to me, “I’m so tired. I don’t want to do anything.” Normally, a teacher could become frustrated at a comment like this, try one’s best to encourage the child to stay motivated, yada yada yada. What actually happened was I took time to listen to him and some of the recent reasons of which caused this tiredness. Number one was, of course, cramming for the tests. Day and night.

This memory came flooding back when I saw this image tweeted by Adam Welcome (#kidsdeserveit). It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with admin and teachers, Chinese and foreign, about the connections between how some things have always been done and the serious effects those same issues can have on a student’s love of learning/growth. It pains me to hear students say (and even some teachers show) that they don’t want to go to school. 

Students despise homework and teachers complain about grading and then having students fix mistakes? My reply: Why do students need homework? Do students love learning? How can high-stakes testing be removed while true, consistent assessment stays strong?

Students loathe morning exercises where they run to military music. My reply: Can students have free time? Why not play Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Michael Jackson, or other modern music while running? (Many students have voiced their opinion about various songs or musicians.)

Students detest the need to miss specials, clubs, and free time to “fix mistakes.” Usually, the number of corrections is more than a couple times. My reply: Why are students making so many “mistakes” in the first place? How should students learn? How should they view mistakes in the course of school/life? How can they rebound and move forward on their own?

The list goes on, and so do my thoughts regarding the new school that I’m planning to help open starting this fall. I read a considerable amount of research, and if a school within the Chinese education system wants to just focus on student enrollment and raising scores/grades along with somehow expecting to genuinely push innovation forward, the leaders must revisit traditional habits, teachers must be open to new ways to educate, and both must examine how they relate to students in 2017. Start to have conversations that most likely lead to collaborative research, discussions, and plans for change. (Side note: Finland did this back in the 1990s. 1990s!)

Like I told my future principal, “You want more students to come during the first few years? Get rid of or cut down homework considerably. That will get students talking and sharing on social media.” Hopefully that and other changes could be seen as indicators that we would be making the best decisions for the students, seeing that…


  1. Daniel, thank you for sharing your thoughts on homework. This has been a battle I have been fighting for well over a decade, both as a school leader and as a parent. There is so much research, and so much common sense, that supports removing, reducing, or reinventing homework. Unfortunately change in the educational system is often like steering a giant ship with a tiny rudder. Change take time. I encourage you to keep turning the wheel bit by bit toward what we know is better for the students and everyone involved.

    1. Hi Eric: Thank you for your encouragement. It's much appreciated! Removing homework hasn't been a problem, whereas reigniting the students' desire to learn sometimes has been. It's been inspiring to receive messages from students who inform me that they learned more after school on their own initiative. Yes, I hope to help "turn the wheel" here since I have continually seen myself as the students' voice and advocate.