Guest post by Jill Janes
“Susie, you are to report to the principal’s office at once.”
Those words strike terror directly into the heart of most elementary students. They are met with the inevitable, “Ooooh!” from middle school classmates. And they become bragging rights for the rebel high school senior. It is our preconceived notion to assume that a trip to the principal’s office is only requested following misbehavior and likely to end in disciplinary actions.
My perception of the student in the principal’s office, though, has shifted with the inspiration of Freeman Hrabowski. In a lively speech to School Administrators of Iowa, Hrabowski touted the confidence of American students. He brought humor to the room of K-12 administrators by suggesting that our students have no problem telling us when we are wrong. He went on to claim that it is this confidence that may be the key to innovation.
Students talking back as future innovators? As a former middle school teacher, I struggled a bit with this concept. Our schools are designed for educating the masses. Educators might argue that there just is not time to engage in lively discussion with students who do not agree. Parents of other students in the class may point out that their student is missing educational opportunities while the teacher and rebel student debate. Past precedence suggests that these students be removed from the room, to the principal’s office in most cases, in order to preserve the learning environment.
Yet today, I challenge myself and other educators to consider the controversy our rebel students bring to the classroom as a learning opportunity. Rather than engage in power struggle, why not encourage our rebels to defend their claims and give supporting evidence? Why not encourage all other students in class to push some boundaries and think outside the box? Why not ask students to challenge the status quo? Why not delight in their confidence and help them to craft their thinking into supported, persuasive arguments? Why not ask if it really is a classroom management issue, or rather a learning issue?
As a new school year begins, I vow to celebrate those frequent flyers in the principal’s office. I will critically consider the changes in our education system needed to nurture their confidence, give them a true voice, and set them on the path towards innovation. Idealistic? Yes, but on the eve of a new school year it is exactly the place I think all educators need to be.
Image Credit: Eric E. Castro