I sat in on a meeting with the school nurse, school counselor, principal, assistant principal, and student-support teacher. The two-pronged goal of the meeting was quite simple: We'd reflect on how my students are doing and identify ways to better support their needs. Before attending, I was given a brief survey to complete about the class where I shared my academic and social concerns for my fifth graders. I brought copies along for everyone to read over.
As my colleagues quietly glanced over the filled-in student welfare survey, my principal turned to me and asked me a simple, beautiful question: “So, how’s your class so far?” She’s inquired about my class before, but this time, this question seemed to possess special significance. Why?
I looked around the circle and I was struck by the diverse crowd of school professionals, ready to listen and respond to my insights. My principal was asking me to share responsibility, so that the needs of my students would be better addressed. By the end of the meeting, we agreed upon several clear action items. For example, I would have more class periods with one of our resource teachers. I left the meeting feeling the way that my colleague predicted I would: I’m not the only one who’s responsible for my students.
In the evening, I checked my school email inbox and received a message from a teacher, informing me about a concerning incident that involved several of my students. This news was very disheartening, but I had a plan. The next morning, I knocked on the school counselor’s door, seeking advice. She had a few moments to spare and we had our first one-on-one meeting. Evidently, this idea of sharing responsibility was crystallizing in me.
In the midst of a heated debate about reforming American education, I can imagine the value of someone sitting the U.S. (policy makers, parents, and educators) down for a student welfare meeting, asking that beautiful, simple question: “So, America, how are your students doing?”
What would the answer to this question be? Would policy makers, parents, and educators be prepared to put aside preconceived solutions for educational reform (e.g., more standardized testing), so that the needs of American students would be better addressed?
Diane Ravitch writes, in Reign of Error, that "the rate of childhood poverty in the United States is higher than in any other advanced nation. Nearly a quarter of American children live in poverty." [In Finland, the child poverty rate is at 5%.] At a time when raising student achievement seems to be taking center stage (through standardization, privatization, and other means), how can we make sure that we’re looking out for the welfare of all students?
Note: Learn more about the ways that Finnish schools promote the wellbeing of their students through this six minute clip, featuring Pasi Sahlberg (the author of Finnish Lessons).