During our CAPT days, I've been working my way through John Merrow's The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership. Although the regular monitoring of students has slowed down my read, one chapter, "Serious Fun?" forced me to evaluate the methods of the two schools I've taught at.
The first school looks as follows:
There, a true partnership between students and faculty existed. Merrow discusses Ted Sizer's belief "that schools...should be democratically run, and that high school kids should be part of the leadership."
Once, after I had moved, I had the opportunity to visit that school during what turned out to be a spirit day. The majority of the student body were participating by wearing school colors or class colors. When I taught there, I recall the nearly monthly assemblies or pep rallies, all of which were led by student leaders. They planned and oversaw each activity. That campus had a palpable heartbeat shared by so many of the faculty and students.
My current school looks as follows:
The difference in student commitment to this school could not be any more different than my previous school. Students are disinterested in their education, and indifferent or even disdainful toward school spirit. Now, it should be noted that there are a few who desperately want a great education and a great community, but they seem to be in the minority.
Here, students are not given the opportunity to come together or to lead each other. We have had one all-school pep assembly, which happened during our homecoming week. My sophomore class officers and cabinet helped me put together a pre-CAPT pep assembly that went as well as it could considering we were celebrating a test! We received great feedback from students and teachers.
If my current school stepped out and took the risk of truly engaging students in leadership roles, could we turn around the ever-growing negativity which permeates our hallways? And ultimately, what is getting in our way?
Do we fear that "these" students will not know how to behave? Do we fear giving up control to teenagers? Do we think the current building atmosphere is positive and empowering?
Students will act how we expect them to act. If we took the time to collectively teach, monitor, and enforce our expectations, our students will generally conform. Yes, some students will still make poor choices. That's when strong leadership deals with the student accordingly. We like control. I know I do. This is a constant struggle for me. But when I empower my student leaders, they find success. And no, I can't imagine we believe the current climate is anything but demoralizing.