Things I Know 307 of 365: The horizon of school must be clear

Continuing to explore William Glasser’s The Quality School, I found this:

On the other hand, and this may seem contradictory, if you ask students working at McDonald’s if they want a good education, the answer will be Yes. They have a vague picture in their quality worlds of what they conceive to be a good education, but I believe few of them have any idea of what it actually is. It is easier for them to see quality on the job than at school. To find out why requires a few more questions.

If you ask if it takes hard work to get a good education, students will again answer Yes. They are still not clear about what a good education is, but whatever it may be, they think it takes hard work to get it. Further, if you ask them if they are smart enough to get a good education, almost all will answer Yes, even if they do not know exactly what it is they have to be smart enough to do.

But if you ask them if they are working hard in school, most will answer No. What they are saying is that, as much as they want the vague something that to them is a good education and know it takes hard work to get it, they do not have any clear idea of how schoolwork, as they now know it, relates to what they want. Until they have a much clearer idea about what a quality education is and how it can be attained from that they are asked to do, students will not work hard in school.

My first two years in the classroom, I was teamed with one of the most caring and thoughtful teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. His name was Doug Powell and he taught 8th graders math. I respected Doug for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the fact he saw our interactions around teaching as reciprocal. Though I was as new to teaching as someone can be, Doug never made me feel as though there wasn’t something he could learn from me. I felt valued, and it was the same feeling he brought to his classroom.

At the beginning of each year, Doug gave the students his “Horizon Speech.” He told the kids the horizon was the distance they could see and explained how sailors used the horizon in setting and keeping course. Doug told his students that they came to him with horizons on their futures that were of varying distances. Some couldn’t see past that day, some were blinded beyond that school year, and some could see for years.

His job, he told them, was to help them extend their horizons. I think that’s what Glasser is getting at. Doug helped students extend their understanding of the lives that lay ahead of them so the courses they set were better informed and free of the “vague something” so many kids see when they look at school. Doug helped students understand where school fit in their understanding of a quality life in ways that were detailed, unambiguous and tied to who they were.

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