What Do Today’s Students Need?

This post very nearly slipped through the cracks, but I’m tickled to have found it. Mid-July Lisa and Two-Weeks-Into-School Lisa are of the same mind, if not the same sleep surplus, and now is the perfect time to resurrect my enthusiasm around knowing our students from as many angles as possible.


Greetings from McKinney, Texas where the RealFeel temperature is 108 degrees and this Wisconsin gal is melting her way through professional development with an awesome group of enthusiastic, inquisitive, and insightful secondary teachers.

It is always such a privilege to be asked to teach teachers. The energy that’s built around sincere investment in collaboratively improving practice is inspiring, even in those desperate weeks when “Back to School” advertisements burst onto every conceivable media outlet in that all-out assault to all things summer that makes me equal parts desperate, angry, and a little bit twitchy.

In our work in McKinney, we’ve had a goal to both educate teachers on the inner workings of workshop instruction and to encourage them to provide opportunities for students to have transactional experiences with texts. To begin, Amy shares a quick YouTube piece that gets us all thinking about how the students who sit before us are defined (and how they are not defined) based on the chaotic, frenetic, and often times depressing experiences the wider world has thrust into their lifetimes.

We then reflected in our notebooks on what this video suggests to us about the needs of our students.

Now, let’s be frank before your own list of student needs forms in your head. If the needs of our students are defined by the standards that require assessment, the chunks of curricular content that define the roadmap of our lesson planning, and or our preconceived ideas of their abilities, we’ve started in the wrong place.

We must always remember…we teach humans. Our work with specific content, abilities, skill levels and learning styles can be important factors in meeting our professional obligations and/or defining parts of what we do each day. However, it is the growth of students as readers, writers, and thinkers that must be at the center of our determination of their needs.

With this in mind, here was my sixty-second jot list:

  • They need role models
  • They need calm in a world of unending chaos
  • They need security
  • They need to learn to communicate effectively, both in person and through technology
  • They need to see themselves reflected in their education
  • They need to see the value in their voices and then have a place for that voice to be heard
  • They need to better understand one another in an effort to build empathy.

The large group shared out a list of ideas that was beautifully responsive to the wide variety of difficult realities our students face. These are the needs of a generation, as one PD participant suggested, who have been largely raised by “lawnmower parents,” in other words, those who pave the way for their children to avoid conflict, though the wider world is full of it. So in essence, our students need not only a respite from the chaos of the world but also a place that then challenges them to critically think through how they can maneuver their way through it and problem solve solutions to big issues.

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So, what to do with this information? Everything. We do everything with this information. It guides the choices we make from the start of the year to the end, from the first time we sit down to plan to our responsiveness in the face of differentiated preferences and needs, from the enthusiasm that bolsters the start of the year to the shadow that can fall on our practice when we’ve lost our way and enthusiasm and productivity can plummet in our classroom.

It’s no easy work, but as we know, so often that means that it is precisely the work that needs doing most.

What specific needs are your students exhibiting early this year? How are they impacting your daily work? Feel free to comment below!

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

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2 thoughts on “What Do Today’s Students Need?

  1. […] just filling time instead of I’m making all my lessons very intentional. Like Lisa Dennis in this last post, I got to participate in Amy’s professional development this summer and it rejuvenated me and […]

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  2. Amy Rasmussen September 13, 2018 at 3:11 pm Reply

    Oh, Lisa, you recap our experience in McKinney ISD so effectively — and the way you draw the conclusion: “So, what to do with this information? Everything. We do everything with this information. It guides the choices we make from the start of the year to the end, from the first time we sit down to plan to our responsiveness in the face of differentiated preferences and needs, from the enthusiasm that bolsters the start of the year to the shadow that can fall on our practice when we’ve lost our way and enthusiasm and productivity can plummet in our classroom.” is like you’ve scanned what drives me professionally and put it into print. Same page, my friend. Same page.

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