By Paula Robinson, UTES Principal February7,2018
A grandparent was in the other day looking at the pictures of the one-room school houses that closed when they opened UTES, and after a trip down memory lane – hers, not mine – I got thinking about how schools have changed. Besides the closure of one-room school houses, there have been numerous significant changes from organizational to curricular. About 15 years ago, there was a movement to restructure the traditional day to the balanced school day, offering two recess breaks and two nutrition breaks. Full day kindergarten was introduced in the last eight or so years. High schools have gone through numerous changes, including the end of Grade 13. Numerous changes like the ones above, are very noticeable and impact lives outside of the school. There have been, however, many subtle changes that have improved, sometimes in very small ways, the experience of the elementary school pupil.
Remember sitting silently in rows, listening to the teacher at the front of the room? Well, nowadays, elementary classrooms are arranged in groups and cooperative learning is the gold standard. Students are encouraged to discuss issues, explain their thinking, and collectively solve problems as a group. (And not like group work in our day when one person shouldered the bulk of the work and everyone else rode his/her coattails.) The teacher becomes the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage. Some classes have something called Genius Hour, where the students direct their own learning, explore an inquiry question and teach their classmates what they have learned. Their excitement is palpable when they present their work!
Remember the mind numbing paper and pencil tasks? Replaced by active learning, technology, creative thinking, and relevant activities, we are preparing students for a world that emphasizes personal skills, thinking skills, conflict resolution skills, and resourcefulness, to name a few. After all, with all the answers to everything at the tip of our fingers, using knowledge is more important than recalling it, except in trivia games. Employers tell educators they want people who can learn, be reliable, get along with co-workers and think creatively. With everything changing so quickly, they say they can train them themselves.
Remember the long days of sitting in uncomfortable desks and hard chairs? They were usually either too small and your knees kept hitting the bottom of the tabletop, or so big you were sitting on your knees to reach the top. How delightful it was to get chosen to sit in a comfy chair during silent reading! Now, many classrooms offer a variety of seating arrangements for students – desks and chairs, but also bean bag chairs, café tables and stools, couches, and therapeutic balls. Some classes even have stand up desks, and others have desks attached to exercise bikes. This flexible seating offers many options to keep students alert and ready to learn….and keeps them from having to stand in the corner because they couldn’t keep still, if you remember that!
Remember walking both ways uphill to school every day? No, neither do I. I do remember loving school, however. I remember learning about rocks with the librarian in Grade 3, the speech I gave in Grade 4 on dinosaurs, a poem I wrote for a Father’s Day card in Grade 6, some hands on pioneer activities in Grade 8 (maybe because my mom came to help the teacher), typing class in Grade 10 and being the only one in my class to write the Grade 13 math exam, among many other things. I remember my friends and the ups and downs that go with navigating the social scene. And I remember my teachers –my Grade 1 teacher who stayed after school to teach a group of us how to knit, my Grade 3 teacher who I ran into at a math conference 20 years later (and she remembered me), my Grade 6 teacher who I called by first name, a dream team of Grade 7/8 teachers and a handful of high school teachers who shared their love of social sciences with me.
That’s what we remember about school – the emotional response it evoked in us. And it is our job today – difficult as it can be – to try to evoke good feelings about school in everyone. Students need to find their niche, connecting with something or someone. Parents need to feel comfortable and welcome. And grandparents need to feel they can come in and connect with their past. That’s why I love the front foyer display of all the old schools – a great way to connect the past and the future.