Do unto students…

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ramkarthikblogger

I recently read the article, “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School“,and I will have to be honest, it made my skin crawl.

Next week marks the beginning of parent-teacher conferences. I can count on a few issues to come up: how I calculate grades, the degree to which I am willing to chase students for late work, and individual parents’ expectations about the flow of information between school and home. But this year, I am hearing lot of questions about how to best educate introverted students and, specifically, the fairness of class participation grades.

I have experimented with many different grading strategies over the years, but class participation remains a constant in my grade book. It counts for a lot because we spend a large percentage of our of class time in dialogue.

I know that the teacher that wrote this absolutely is trying to figure out what is best for kids, but I think it is fair to question the method.  The reasoning behind why students need to learn to communicate for themselves is actually quite sound, but where I have the issue is how they are being brought out of their shell.

Also, what if the teacher is the problem?  What happens when conflicting personalities occur?  I remember having one student who was brilliant yet was really tough to deal with in class.  When I asked other teachers about how they dealt with her poor attitude, they told me that she was actually great.  When her parents came into interviews, they wondered why her participation marks were extremely low in my class but were perfect in others.  That was the last time I used marks as the “carrot and stick” to get a student to talk.  Sometimes our own personality makes certain people uncomfortable.  My job as a teacher and leader is to find what works for you, not make you adapt to work for me.  Isn’t that how we wanted to be treated by our principals/superintendents?

Here is a question…what if a kid is really shy and now you implement participation marks to bring them out of their shell.  What if it doesn’t work?  The student may already have anxiety about talking and NOW you are punishing them extra for their lack of participation.  That is a HUGE double whammy.

As a teacher, if you believe that you need to teach communication skills to a student, find a way to give them a voice. Coercing them is not going to build a strong culture in your classroom.  Think of it this way…as a principal I had many great educators on my staff who said very little in our staff meetings although they would have had a ton to share where others could have learned.  Them speaking up would have been beneficial to our entire staff but they didn’t.  What if I decided that, based on my judgment, if they did not speak up in meetings they would be docked pay?  Nothing much, maybe ten dollars a meeting.  How do you think that would go over?  I could maybe get them to talk but how do you think the culture would be in the school?  I am guessing their would be (and should be) a mutiny.

My job as a principal would be to try and find what works for them, not for me.  If I am able to do that, and try to find a way for them to have a voice on staff while also having them feel comfortable, how do you think the culture would be then?

What I have really learned in the past few years is that we too often do things to kids that we would never want done to us.  If we want society to get better, doesn’t it start with creating an environment in our schools that models for our kids what organizations could be as opposed to what we would hate?

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