Effective and Progressive

This week I was asked the question “What are some characteristics of an effective and progressive high school?”

Now, being in a K – 12 school, I took some time and talked to a few of the students in the senior grades. They were a great help, as were the 4 people who answered my twitter call for help. Through their suggestions and ideas I was able to come up with 4 characteristics that seemed to capture the essence of an effective and progressive high school.

Relevant Curriculum

From my discussions, it was clear that students want to learn and know that learning is important. Their biggest issue was that at times what they were doing didn’t seem relevant. It wasn’t that they wanted things to be always “today’s headlines” kind of stuff but they wanted to be able to find connections between what they were doing and what was going on around them. If it was detached or just some facts about things, they found it hard to follow or care about. They wanted to be involved in things that were going on in their lives and were linked to their world. They gave some examples like the problems in the Middle East – it was linked to history in many ways and they were interested in how this came about and why so many problems. They had some ideas but weren’t sure if what they knew was right or not.


The whole idea of being connected came through, not as one important idea but from how they talked about being connected to other students and other people. This leads me to think that we need to really work on helping students build networks with other students. This is happening in a few cases but they are not the norm. In most cases, students continue to work in classrooms limited to connecting with those in the room. With the tools available to teachers, it seems that this should be something that can be achieved without too much trouble. I think it will require the will of teachers to stretch and try new things but, for our students, these are the things they are already doing outside of school. Maybe it’s time we brought some of these things into the school and examined, in more detail, how we can provide opportunities for students to network.


This was something that the high school students were concerned about. Although they didn’t call it this, they talked about having the skills and knowledge to move from school into the world beyond and be successful. They discussed more than just academic skills. Things like living on their own, budgeting, food and clothing, working, banking and other daily activities were tossed around whether they were thinking about furthering their education or going into the work force. As things change rapidly in our society, maybe we need to spend more time looking at some of these aspects and discussing with students the various parts of living on one’s own.


Engaging students. Whether in how the school runs or the classes that are offered, students want to be active participants in what is going on. They want to be part of the process and be part of what is going on in the school. They want a say in how they will spend their day and what they will be doing and, connected with the relevant curriculum, they want to know how and why some things are the way they are. Mostly, they weren’t looking to get rid of anything but just wanted to understand more about how things worked and ran.

We have all seen a change in the students that come into the schools. I would say that most of this change has been positive. They are much more aware of the surrounding world and what is going on. They are curious about how things work and how things happened to get to where they are today. They are very environmentally aware and have a social connectedness that is much greater than a few years ago. As educators, one of our biggest challenges is to tap that curiosity and have students expand their knowledge and understanding and then demonstrate what it is that they have come to understand.

The one thing that wasn’t mentioned was the physical environment. They talked about being able to connect and find information, have access to information and use new technologies but they talked about classrooms have wifi and internet access and being able to use the tools to do different things in the classroom setting but they didn’t seem at all to be put out by the physical design of schools. Or maybe I just didn’t ask the question:)

So what’s your take? What are the important points that you would consider in an effective and progressive high school?


  1. Reply

    I think you’ve highlighted some essential points…and I think it’s awesome that you included students in the conversation. Well done.

    I agree – relevant curriculum is huge. If students feel what they are learning is worthwhile – I think the others will follow – being connected and being engaged. Unfortunately, I think that much of our curriculum does not provide students with enough entry points that are really meaningful.

    Alec Couros posted about authentic learning environments recently – I thought it connected well to what you were discussing…worth a read!


    Good luck moving the vision forward….

  2. Reply

    The best learning has always been a conversation. Listening alone is not enough (which explains why the stand and deliver method of teaching is falling by the wayside). The most effective teachers are the ones that can engage the students in a two way discussion (on topic of course).

    A progressive high school is one where the students feel free to engage in as many different conversations as possible. Web 2.0 is just another tool that helps us expand those learning conversations past the classroom (or maybe expand the classroom beyound the physical walls).

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