It made me cringe but led to an “aha”

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve just finished putting away all the things from our second Ultimate Youth Night. This night is a opening evening for youth in our community to come together in a safe and supervised setting to enjoy movies, games, gaming and music. Our first event had about 50 youth attend from 7:00 to midnight. For last night’s event, it was decided to try to include some of the younger students in the school so we had two different parts to the evening. The first part was from 6:00 to 9:00 and was for any students from K to 5 accompanied by an adult. For a first time try, it was okay with about 15 kids attending with their parents.

The second part of the evening was for youth from grade 6 to age 18. For this portion of the evening, we had about 55 youth come out and play games and hang out. When I left at 9:00, after my 6 hours of setting up and getting all the things organized, the place was rocking with Wii, Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Baseball, SceneIt, a the board games NHL Monopoly and Clue being played. We sold pop for a $1 and had free chips and such. This round we had many more girls attend and participate. We’re happy with what is happening but now we know it is time to make this a sustainable project – one that is run by youth with adult assistance. Our plan is to create a committee of 10 or 12 youth and have them appoint a chairperson and organize these evenings with input from the overseeing committee, of which 3 of the youth will sit on.

So, what made me cringe? Well, it wasn’t this. It was a conversation that I had with a grade 11 student on Friday who, during our discussion, told me that we were equals. I’ve spent the entire weekend thinking about that comment. Now it makes me cringe for a few reasons. First off, it creates a false sense of being equals in a manner that is not possible. As much as schools need to open up and allow students to be part of some of the decisions, there are still responsibilities that youth, even those who are mature, should not be made to shoulder because they are still youth. A second thing that came to mind is the false sense that there is an equality of decision-making ability that just isn’t there. Schools are responsible to every help every student to do their best given the tools and personel available to them. As an administrator, part of my mandate is to try to ensure that this does take place and, if necessary, to take the steps to bring this to fruition. Lastly, it creates unattainable goals that no matter how much we, as educators, do, we won’t be able to meet. As much as I would like to see schools change, there are some things that youth should not be made to deal with as they navigate the path to adulthood because, to tell you the truth, I’m still learning and growing into after 17 years in education.

While I spent time setting up for the youth evening, I began to realize that the wrong person was doing the setting up – this event needs to be organized by the people who know what they want to do. Instead, as the adult, our group needs to take care of the things like accessing grants, finding a permanent storage place for the equipment, accessing facilities, organizing chaperones and so forth and leave the actual setting up, doing and taking down to the people who are participating. Last night we had 5 game machines with projectors being played while music, games and other activities were taking place. This made me think that maybe I’d been going about things at my school all wrong.

Application to Education

For the past 3 years, the staff has been trying to figure out how to deal with a number of issues that have been constant problems. We’ve tried a few different things but usually end up at the same place we began. As I thought about what this student had said to me, I realized that there was a lack of information on the part of the students. Instead of explaining and discussing the workings of the school with them, we’d been telling them how things worked and what was going to be expected of them. This sometimes worked and sometimes caused problems, especially for me. Just recently I’ve been running into all kinds of difficulty with students being late and cutting class. Suffice to say, not everyone is on the same page.

Here I am trying to enforce rules that students have no input into. Now, some of them are from our provincial Education Act and are part of the law. Actually, all of them are related to this. My plan, fool-hearty as it is, is to dialogue with students from grades 9 – 11 and have them set out the parameters for their behaviour while at the same time putting the responsibility for classroom management of these things fully in the hands of the teachers. To do this, I plan to bring these students together for an afternoon this week to work in groups, with a teacher in each group, to suggest ways to deal with the issues that result from the rules that are given to us.

I plan to divide the students into groups, having each group brainstorm ideas for dealing with the problems making it clearly understood that this process is a way for them to take ownership for themselves and create the expectations for the school. I know that this is a huge gamble and could turn into complete chaos but I trust that the students, once they realize that if they take this seriously, will be taken seriously. The final expectations will be organized and voted upon through secret ballot. Of course, I will have veto power over any unreasonable suggestions but I’m hoping students will monitor themselves.

I’m not sure if this is an “aha” or an “oh-oh”. However, I tire of the way things are working – trying to have students accept responsibility for what they are doing. Hopefully, this way, they will buy into what is going on. What do you suggest?

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