The need for student-focused education

by Matthew Caston ([email protected]) 163 views 

Editor’s note: This essay is the first of a four-part series written by community partners of the Future School of Fort Smith. Matthew Caston is founder/CEO of the Freedman Society, a newly incorporated group dedicated to the research, development and practice of effective democratic education techniques and curricula. Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Caston holds a master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School of Public Service.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.

What happens when you give a child freedom? Choice? The power to pick their path and walk it? We’ve always relied on policy makers and school administrators to help define the role of education and shape our classrooms. What if, in addition to those voices, we add another voice to the conversation, one so important that we have no classroom without it: that of the student.

Student-focused education, where students guide curriculum alongside educators and administrators, is helping to reshape and improve the way we think about education and its role.

From generally educating the public, to attempting to improve the wellbeing of all American citizens, the role of education has gone through many changes since the development of this country. As an educator, I believe the role schools should play in our children’s lives is fairly simple.  Schools should be a place where children are given the freedom to discover their talents, develop those talents and receive guidance in how to turn those talents into careers.

Schools should be thought of as a part of the family and community for children. According to the Pew Research Center, American middle schoolers spend an average of 925 hours in the classroom per year. In Arkansas public schools without waivers from seat time, students are promoted to the next grade by earning 6 hours of instructional seat time, which translate into “Carnegie Units.” Within this time, schools should strive to provide environments in which children feel comfortable, motivated and engaged. At the end of the day, schools and classrooms are huge social environments for students, environments in which they learn to make friends, develop personalities, learning styles, preferences, and talents.

Because of the social nature of classrooms, it is important that classrooms are open to new ideas, unique questions, innovation and change. As facilitators of classrooms, educators have a significant role not only in the academic development of children, but also in their social and emotional development.

At Future School, our educators are facilitators of the learning process, emboldening students with the power of choice in determining the purpose of their education. We realize that our students are not empty vessels. They come to school with their own ideas and impressions of the world. They come curious with millions of questions, questions that, in essence, are the root of education and self-actualization. Our classroom environments are created as spaces where these questions drive our learning. Rather than flat text on the pages of a book, curriculum and daily lesson plans are dynamic and are drawn directly from the questions of the students. Lessons are derived from the communities in which they live and grow. Lessons about them, their focus, their curiosities!

As educators, we must strive to create this community for our students through communication and trust. Explaining expectations, and giving our students freedom to create their own parameters and responsibilities and outline their own objectives, shows students that we know their potential. Given the freedom, our children can do truly amazing things.

Future School’s student focused approach empowers students while giving educators the freedom to try new, innovative techniques in and out of the classroom. Students build self-confidence when they see the power of their questions. They are more invested in learning when the assignment is of their own design. They are pushed to think critically about their own learning and how it applies to the rest of their class community.

In our classrooms, the student and the educator learn more about themselves by learning from others. But the learning doesn’t stop there. Take a look at our website and our Facebook page to see our list of community partners, as well as our outreach to families. Autonomy, self-actualization, compassion, innovation; these are our values. Coupled with student-focused education, these values build great leaders.

Student-focused education isn’t about teaching students to simply follow directions. It’s about freedom. Choice. It’s about giving students the power to pick their own path and walk it; cultivating their limitless potential.

Student-focused education is about inspiring each student to bring out the leader in themselves. It’s about rethinking and reshaping the old model of education together with the help of our students.

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