The Three Rs, Part Ii: Relevance

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I once heard an analogy concerning the difference between participation and commitment at the breakfast table. The chicken participates and contributes to breakfast. However, the pig -- now he's committed! How do we move our students from the participation mode in school, to being fully committed to their own future success?

Researchers have found students who are successful in school and on into their careers have had one major component in common: They have established their own vision for what they want to do or be. It is this point of focus that allows them to sacrifice whatever it takes to move closer to their goal; time working, time studying, time taking difficult classes and effort overcoming personal challenges.

Students with a vision for their future are ripe to see relevance in what they are learning and how it will contribute to their goals.

Ask any kindergartner what they want to be when they grow up and they will answer immediately, "I want to be a nurse!" "I want to be a policeman!" "I want to be a doctor!" Ask high school students what they want to be when they grow up and you'll find that the original vision was lost somewhere between the realization of academic requirements and a natural proclivity for adolescent carpe diem.

The point here is, students are often "participants" but not wholly committed. It takes special people to bring them from one level to the next.

As educators, students come through our doors in various stages of development relative to a vision for their own future. As well, they come to us having experienced a wide range of physical and emotional support (or lack thereof) relative to their future.

Our great challenge is educating students as a whole, while knowing and supporting the vision of students at whatever stage of development it might be. For some, this means creating learning activities in an academic setting that help them begin to see where their talents and strengths can lead them. For others it is simply supporting their current endeavors and plugging them into resources. In either case, making the curriculum relevant and applicable is a far greater challenge than simply imparting knowledge.

Building relevance for all students is a difficult task and, at best, a moving target. Somehow, great teachers find a way. For example, Journee Durant teaches Advanced Placement English and AIMS Reading and Writing classes at Payson High School. AIMS Reading and Writing were designed to help juniors and seniors prepare for the AIMS Reading and Writing exams. Though Miss Durant's students had difficulty on the AIMS in the past, their success rate this year was remarkable. This, however, was just the beginning. During the second semester, Miss Durant used her experience in journalism and was able to take these same kids and start a school newspaper, the Payson High School Times. Up to this point, Payson High School had not had a regular newspaper in years and years. With each edition the quality of the publication increased. By the end of the year it was downright professional!

Students, who before had disdain for writing, were now on "news beats" seeking out information on relevant topics, meeting deadlines and writing to an audience. Who knows what "vision" some of those students had for their future from that experience?

Of course Miss Durant was able to accomplish much of this because she has the uncanny ability to "connect" with students. Hence our topic for next time: Relationships. In the meantime, what are you in your commitment to your child's future? The chicken? Or the pig?

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