Leading Connected Classrooms- Respecting the Power of Student Choice

Over the next month, this blog will feature excerpts and guest posts surrounding my latest book, Leading Connected Classrooms- The Heart and Soul of Teaching and Learning. This book is designed for teachers, teacher leaders, and building leaders who are looking to bring excellence to the learning in their schools.

 

Students deserve choice and the sense of freedom that comes from making choices, but rarely do schools live up to those needs. The bells, the master schedule, the course calendar, and the lack of opportunities to showcase learning, just to name a few of the many inhibitors of choice, tighten the noose around the educational freewill of our innately passionate learners. Classrooms are historically places that limit choices and, instead, create the conditions for students to feel trapped in the institutional education box. 

 

Lack of student choice often comes from a lack of teacher choice. Many teachers feel trapped about what they can teach and how they can teach it. In some classrooms, teachers must follow the same pacing guide as other teachers in their building, no matter the learning 

opportunities available beyond the guide. These restrictions are ultimately felt by the students. When the principal is worried about curriculum coverage, and she sees her primary goal as excellent test scores, it is again the students who feel this pressure on time, resources, and opportunities. This pyramid scheme of pressure lands most heavily on the learners in the classroom. 

 

Choice in learning is a beautiful, energizing place for those who have experienced it. It allows creativity to surface. It allows interest and iteration to naturally flourish. The need for choice seems obvious, especially when you observe children who have been without choice for years. They tense up at the opportunity to choose. Students without choice may sit for a long time hoping that the teacher gets them started with an idea, or they may just do the same thing as the person next to them. Students who haven’t had the opportunity to showcase their learning based on their choice stress having options. They can even resent choice. Many teachers react to this by adding in limits and being more prescriptive. Doing this is just treating the symptoms as opposed to dealing with the problem. Classrooms that fall into the trap that students don’t want or need choice based on students’ initial reactions are leaving students ill prepared for their learning beyond high school.