“I HATE SCHOOL!” You might expect that phrase to come out of the mouth of a 7th grader trying to look cool in front of his friends, but you might be surprised to hear it more and more from kids as young as Kindergarten and First grade. Those in schools every day know there has been a slow and subtle change over the years. A majority of kids no longer like school. Students’ attitudes about school have become more and more negative and at an earlier and earlier age. When I was in first or second grade, if one of our classmates said they didn’t like school, we would have looked at them like they had two heads. If I walked into a typical first or second grade classroom today, I’m not confident 50% of students would say they liked school. This change is really really scary to me. What is the long term impact on learning for a student who decides they don’t like school in first or second grade? What impact does our emotional state or affective experience have on our learning? All of us have had the experience of trying to force ourselves to pay attention in a class we really hated or trying to read a book we were assigned that we find boring and uninteresting. How much less information were you able to absorb because of your emotional state? 10% less? 50% less? 80% less? How much more information were you able to absorb if you were really interested and engaged? There are many factors we could speculate have contributed to students’ change in attitude, but a better question is, “What are we going to do about it?”
As educators, do we make every effort to present material in a fun and engaging way that is interesting to students? Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, which so many have read and been inspired by is a great resource for this. Do we bring passion every day and raise the bar to bring that elusive “wow factor” to each lesson? Are we concerned whether students are really engaged or just that they are compliant and well behaved? Do we offer students the opportunity to move, interact with peers, be creative, incorporate their interests, and have a voice in the way they are taught? Do we care if they like school or not?
As parents, do we consistently take a supportive and positive tone when talking about our child’s school? If we have a disagreement or concern about school personnel, do we allow our child to overhear our frustration, or do we deal with the issue privately and discreetly partnering with our child’s teachers? Do we model for our child the love of learning? Do we instill in our children the fact that an education is a blessing that still eludes many children in the world today? Are we grateful for the teachers who care for our children each day? Do we make sure they know of our gratitude?
As administrators, do we interact and build connections with students each day? Do we take the time to find joyful and silly moments with our students or do we approach each day like a giant checklist? Do we support teachers in planning fun and engaging activities? Do we make sure students have appropriate amounts of recreation and social time? Do our students know that they are more to us than just a potential meets or exceeds on the next standardized test?
Fun is an important part of learning. In the simple and wise words of Rita Pierson from her famous Ted Talk, Every Kid Deserves a Champion, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like!” Let’s make sure every day we make it clear to our students we like them and want them to have the best day possible, and they will like us too. If we all work together, we can make school a place we all can’t wait to get to in the morning. What are you doing to make school fun for the students? Do your students like school? Ask them and listen. You might be surprised by what you hear!