If I had to guess, school played a central organizing role in probably 90% of my world when I was a teen. A few family things that weren’t around school, summer baseball (non-school), and maybe a couple of other small things rounded out the other 10%.
These things made school “sticky”, a place I wanted to be for a variety of reasons even when academics weren’t always one of them. Because of this, there was an opportunity cost for missing school (including, by the way, peace at home if I made poor choices).
But, the student cost calculus has flipped today. For this generation of students, 90% of their world is on, or directly accessible through, their phone or tablet or laptop, all of which go wherever they go. So, when they check their devices at the school door, when they can’t access their social networks, when they can’t just immediately Google anything they want to know, they experience a loss.
In other words, this generation of students experiences an unprecedented opportunity cost of going to school. (All I left behind was a television and a Nintendo. And, candidly, Days of Our Lives, Super Mario Brothers, and Techmo Bowl weren’t too much to sacrifice!)
While a wholesale sellout to technology is not the answer for schools, it is, in fact, our competition for student bandwidth. And, while blended learning and BYOD (bring your own device) strategies are key to improving the educational delivery system, they do not focus on the development of the whole student or the school as community.
As we push for ed reform and build new technologies to support it, we must remember that schools, when most successful, are more than just educational delivery systems. They must offer a broader value proposition for students, today more than ever.
If we are going to truly transform education, we must reduce the opportunity cost of going to school.
When you pick out your clothes for the day, do you check your almanac to see what you should wear?
No. More than likely, you check your phone’s weather app for a quick forecast and then determine your wardrobe according to this timely and (usually) more accurate information.
When you decide to walk the dog or go for a jog or a bike ride, do you check the almanac to see how nice it is outside, to determine if it is a good day to be out?
No. More than likely, you use your eyes and your experience to assess the situation and then grab the tools (umbrella, windbreaker, water bottle, etc.) that will help you make the most of it.
We don’t use an almanac for daily decisions because we have access to better information, more accurate, more specific, and therefore more effective data for guiding our choices and behaviors.
Like weather, school climate can change rapidly, or it may trend consistently over a longer period of time. It’s hard to know, unless we pay attention closely and check it in close time proximity to the decisions we make that are impacted by it.
But, in schools, we do a climate assessment once per year, if we do one at all. It generates massive amounts of data that, if we are lucky, we are given many months later - often after many of the students who actually completed the survey have graduated or moved on to new schools. The data report covers the broad range of topics that are a part of school climate - safety, relationships, effective teaching/learning, leadership etc. - in one big tome. It’s the school climate almanac (and often ends up in a filing cabinet or on a shelf somewhere).
Surely, for something as critical to our education system as school climate, we can do better than an almanac.
If school climate is created moment by moment and relationship by relationship, why does our data collection happen once per year?
In an age when students walk around with the power of Google in their pocket, how can we create new opportunities and more effective tools for our teachers, students, and administrators to create and support a positive school climate minute by minute, hour by hour? We cannot afford for school climate to be the by-product, a passive observation, of a school community at a moment in time. It should be a powerful, proactive, living and breathing educational tool.