I have been part of some intense discussion lately about how Milford Schools addresses the changing needs of students, finding ways to motivate and engage students to a higher degree.
In fact, this is an ongoing focus and concern for administrators and teachers. Much of what a school district does must be evidence-based and proven, one way or another. However, some options – such as the “Breakout” approach used by several teachers in elementary schools – are able to be easily picked up from other sources and applied to a teacher’s own specific needs. Administrators share ideas, successes, and challenges across buildings, bringing back new approaches to their own schools.
Administrators at the district and building levels are also continually researching and looking for new ideas. Some of these are explored further and may be tested, then rolled out to the entire district, such as the Feedback program. Other initiatives may take a long time to evaluate and then implement, or be too expensive – an approach may be fantastic but may not be affordable for a public school with limited funds.
I sat down with Superintendent Nancy House to talk about what the district is currently doing. One big focus right now is a homework study: what is the right type and right amount of homework at different levels?
Her big interest is what she calls Student Investment. “How do we make learning meaningful to individual students so they are invested in their own learning, and they are willing to put in the intellectual and physical requirements to succeed?” she describes.
There are many different approaches that can come out of this philosophy. Many involve giving more authority and responsibility to students, to allow them to direct their own learning to a much greater extent. School districts must teach standards prescribed by the state of Ohio; but how these standards are learned is completely up to the individual school (this is the curriculum). By shifting mindset from school personnel providing information for students to learn, to school personnel providing opportunities for students to explore learning, this type of investment shift can take place.
However, this is complicated and potentially expensive. We can take small steps in this direction, but how this looks is still a question. The executional approach is one that will evolve with time, but one Mrs. House, the curriculum directors, and school administration are exploring.
In the meantime, what can you as parents do? The biggest thing is to encourage your children to take more and more responsibility for themselves. Provide opportunities for them to take ownership at home, depending on age and abilities, and hold them to following through. The more responsibility a child has at home, the more likely s/he will be driven to take responsibility at school.
Video games are also a huge concern. There are many books and articles about what video games do to the brain – just google “video game effects on the brain” and start reading. The movie Screenagers: Growing up in the digital age is also a great resource – even if the film is not showing somewhere nearby, the website has a Resource section that provides very valuable information, including research, information on internet addiction, resources for appropriate digital citizenship, and even sample “screen time contracts” you can use with your children.