Yesterday was one of those days that I dread as a parent. It was the day my children received their final report card for the 09-10 school year, which included the name of their respective teachers for the 2011-2012 school year. Of course, the kids and their parents were excited to not only learn who their teachers are going to be, but also which of their friends will be in their class. As a result, our cell and home phones were buzzing with calls, texts and emails all afternoon. My wife, who was sitting in a Pittsburgh airport, had partial list of students for each of the kids classes, all based on incoming texts and emails. (We do not solicit lists of names from others.)
I have no problem with the kids calling (and texting when older) their friends to find out “who has who”. The social side of school is very important to them and they need to satisfy that part of their lives. They are trying to find out who they will be close to next year – not necessarily in a learning sense, but in a social sense.
The problems come when parents call other parents, send out emails with comprehensive lists of students, start wikis for other parents to add their child’s name to class lists or simply barrage their friends with a series of text messages seeking the placement of each child. Their reason may be social as well, but I know that that is not always the case. Unfortunately, some are not looking at the make up of their child’s class as an opportunity to learn from a diverse set of learners, instead they are looking for potential road blocks – the kids in the class that are going to impede their child from getting an “A”.
This bothers me in two ways: First, there implies that the success of any child is dependent upon the make up of the class. I admit that it’s too simple and naive to think that classrooms don’t have personalities and that some can be more challenging than others, but learning, whether individual or social, is very personal and requires an acceptance of ownership on the part of the learner. Students need to own their learning. By introducing classroom dynamics as a hurdle to personal learning, I think we begin to deflect that ownership away from the student and more toward the class. I tell me kids all the time, “your success in school is under your control, regardless of who is your class.”
But, here’s my bigger issue, when these lists are created and disseminated, limits are created. As of today (June 25, 2010) there is a list of 20 kids in each of my kid’s classrooms and for the next 9 weeks, the assumption will be that those are the only learners in that classroom. As Will Richardson will say to teachers, “You are not the smartest person in the room if you are connected to the internet.” The same should hold for our students, “You are not the only learner (and teacher!) in the room if you are connected to the internet.” My fear is that kids and parents will only see the 20 names on the list as the only learners in their classrooms without understanding the learning needs to occur in a “global” classroom.