05 November 2012

Three Things I'd Do if I Were Principal

It's easy to think of all I could accomplish while safely in my little classroom.
Don't get me wrong, I have a great principal at my school who gives me all the freedom and support I could ever want. This is just going to be an idealistic rant. Most of what I say, a principal probably couldn't even make happen on his/her own. Maybe at a charter.

1. Create a City of Students
Basically what I'm trying to say here is that I'd want my school to behave like a municipality, rich with real-world practices happening every day under the guidance of teacher professionals. A lot of high schools offer some aspects of this idea. The auto teacher lets kids bring their own cars to work on. The construction teacher actually builds small buildings with students.

I'd give more examples, but they all seem to fall under CTE, which is essentially my beef. More of their education needs to be immediately applicable and practicable. (I typed it expecting the red hashes under it. Turns out it's a word!) Marketing students compete to sell identical products in the store. Statistics and math students analyze educational data, in addition to sports and school store data. FACS students run a daycare which cares for that school's teachers. Engineering, physics, drafting, and construction students work together on building projects.

Like I said, it would be an idealistic rant.

2. No More Grades, Just Achievements
I don't like the idea of giving out a letter grade and pushing students along, regardless of what grade they got (short of failing). A student who got a C clearly doesn't understand as much as the one who got an A. Yet both, typically, get to move on to the next level in that subject. If I'm the teacher of that next level, I might know what grade they got last year, but it doesn't help me any more than if I didn't know. For all I know, the C student actually understood a few things quite well and struggled only with a few units. But there's no way of knowing which units that student mastered and which he/she didn't. So instead of grades, I say achievements. By that, I mean each student has a record of sorts indicating which units he/she is lacking, adequately performing, or mastering. Students move at their own pace and we make sure they're adequately performing or mastering units before moving on to the next level of that unit.

I know what you're thinking, that if students get to work at their own pace, then they'll work very slowly indeed. But I believe that those students would be the same ones who score very low in school already. You could still have graduation requirements. You could even graduate from certain subjects, or achieve different levels of mastery before moving on to college. If you have your eye on a particular trade, you could look at the recommended requirements are for that trade.

3. A Universal Portfolio
An aggregation of work would do well with achievements. Each student would have a chart of achievements showing how much he/she has completed, in addition to a portfolio that actually demonstrates that work that earned them completion. Teachers of subjects would be responsible for determining whether adequacy or mastery has been achieved. That would be their assessment responsibilities. They could also determine citizenship grade to indicate that student's ability to cooperate and respect others.

Students would take charge of this online-based portfolio and teachers would have access to it. A student could claim to have already mastered a unit in physics class that translates directly to a math equivalent, and the teacher could confirm or deny it.

It would also be evidence of improvement through the years. I don't think I need to further explain that.

So there you have it. Three idealistic things I'd like to see in schools that may or may not be achievable by a principal.

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