April 15, 2008

What is a Student [school]?


I was recently asked what are the elements of a student? It's a pretty broad question that could require a broad, bloated, and philosophical answer. But I offered this graphic (in words, of course) as my answer:

I have spent 11 years in high school education. I have observed students at their best, their worst, and at their most troubled times. In all cases, I have reflected on what makes a student? What are the core components that we (as educators) could use to help us define a student's person? Take that one step further... what are the core components of a school? I have concluded that their are three components that make up a student (school) and affect their education.

The first 1/3 of a student's (school's) life is Academic Involvement; the classes, the studying, the attention they must pay to their gathering, analysis, and synthesizing of information.

The second 1/3 of a student's (school's) life is Community Involvement; the teams they play on, the clubs they are part of, the connection they have to their school, their peers, and their micro and macro communities through employment or service.

The final 1/3 of a student's (school's) life is Socialization; their character development (which includes the spiritual), their relationships to peers, authority, rules, democracy, and friendships.

These thirds are all encompassing from what I have observed. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find another element that would not fit into at least one of these thirds. So why am I putting this out here?

Because if we read the research and pay attention to our students (and schools), then we would be able to see that each of these thirds is:
  1. Equally important
    • When we develop mission statements, visions, and policy that directly affect students, we might consider whether or not we are taking the entire "pie" of a student's life into consideration.
    • It is important for us to realize that community and socialization are just as important as academics. If we are too heavy in the academics and don't leave room for or encourage community connection, then we risk losing our students and making school more of a chore than a joy.
  2. Interrelated
    • Think of you personal life; each aspect of your life affects the other (marriage affects friendships, as does money affect choice and decisions about your own socialization).
    • The "whole child" movement is based on this premise - one aspect of a student's life will affect another. You know the stories... one student fails in school not strictly because of poor intellect, but maybe because of family dysfunction, personal sickness, or social victimization.
    • Schools who lose spirit or student connection (community and socialization) see dramatic changes in their academic culture. Likewise, students who are not connected usually do poorly academically and lack well developed socialization.
    • Bottom line: The wheel will not turn without all spokes holding it stable.
  3. Our responsibility as educators
    • To teach and lead our students is to understand their needs. These three elements are essential to our decisions.
    • I would hate to return to a school I once taught at only because the attention given to students' academics and the neglect of their community relations. Once the school's clubs and athletic teams saw a drop in participation (due to the pressure brought upon them to do better in classes and on tests) then the academics soon, too, fell apart.

Not that I'm breaking any ground in educational theory here - what I am saying is well documented and found nicely worded in other venues. But as a visual learner, the "pie" helps me to understand my role as an educator and school leader.

After thought: the pie chart looks much like the peace symbol. Am I onto something here?