Sunday, December 13, 2015

Changing school from a filter to a foothold

When students are failing, we can blame it on a family issue, some supposed character flaw, or other factor out of our control, but what good will that do? We can let them fail, pass them off to someone else, or just graduate them even though they're not ready. But what good would that do?

What if, instead, we responded by increasing support?

At the Depot, we value personalized education. Our advisors (teachers) meet at least twice per year with parents and students to design individualized learning plans that outline projects the students will do, competency goals, advisory work, online math work, etc.

But the independent learning environment that lies at the heart of the Depot requires a lot of soft skills (conscientiousness, self-control, organization, etc.) and basic hard skills (reading, writing, math) that many students lack.

It dawned on me that we really need a tiered SRBI-style support system. Tier I is the current advisory/self-directed learning model. Students not being successful there can be moved to a second tier: group workshops, like our successful Senior Project Boot Camp and focused 1:1 sessions to help students complete projects, writing assignments, etc.

Just last week, a student who had been struggling to get started on his independent project since the beginning of the school year started and finished the first step in one focused, 2 hour session.

Students needing more support would move to a third tier. This highest level of support could include moving to a special support "advisory" for part or all of each day.

This is just a rough sketch, but I was excited when this resonated with some colleagues this week.

And of course, it needs to apply to behavioral issues as well. This week I did my second real restorative circle, and these are a powerful Tier II behavioral support, one that could lead to other supports such as weekly check-ins and counselling.
Success! The Rasperry Pi computer is up and running!

As I've told a couple of students this week, this is really about making sure they get the skills they need succeed, whether those are academic skills, social skills, or self-control.

I know that we won't be able to help everyone. I know there will be some who simply refuse our help, or whose needs exceed our capacity, but until that becomes clear, our job is to keeping ramping up support.

School should not be a filter, to filter out those who don't meet the standard. It's not a service for the elite--for those who can already teach themselves, or whose home lives have already ensured their success. It needs to be for everyone.

It can't be a filter. It's got to be a foothold, a foundation, a fulcrum.

We humans aren't built to thrive in a weed-out-the-weak, social Darwinist world. We're much too interconnected for that. We're built to support each other.

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