Professionalism: This was something that really emerged for me from my visits to 21 schools: our students really respond and rise to the occasion when we treat them as young professionals, part of a learning team led by their teaching captain. If we re-conceptualize our students as analogues to associates in a law firm, or interns in a hospital, we can recognize our students as capable people with much to offer even as we remind them that they, like associates and interns, have much to learn.
Teenagers crave this kind of respect and independence, and if our purpose is to foster in them autonomy, we should start by providing some of it. Stimson said the way to make someone trustworthy is to trust him, and I argue here that the way to make a high school student a professional is to respect him or her as one.
Until maybe a century ago, most children learned mostly as apprentices, and I could call this category “aPprenticship.” The culture of apprenticeship honored learning by doing. In this culture we give our young trainees something hard to do, but with real-world value; we show them models of what the end-product should be; we give them some independence and latitude for the “doing;” we give them coaching and lots of feedback; we hold the students accountable for a HIGH standard of results.
We should seek to regard our high school students as young professionals. We don’t micromanage their minutes; we don’t require them to receive permission to go the bathroom, but we do hold them accountable for their product, a product for which we hold high expectations.
More than any other of the Five P’s this essay seeks to establish, this one came from my observations. Particularly inspiring to me was the learning environment at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, or C.A.R.T. At CART, classes aren’t even called classes, but rather “Labs.” In the biomed lab I visited first, teachers and students all wore scrubs, donning the clothing of a professionals in this milieu. In the law and economy “lab” down the hall, students wore ties and suits, suiting to the particular professionalism of their studies. Students radiated purpose, and enormously appreciated the respect their teachers afforded them. They worked hard to accomplish real things, and easily envisioned themselves as lab technicians or paralegals. If asked which of the twentyone high schools I visited I recommend most highly to other school visitor/observers, CART is the one.
Examples: Below are opening sentences, and in most cases, links to the full narratives, of my live-blog observations of classrooms effectively using professionalism as defined above to enhance student learning. Please note: these narratives are written “on-the-fly” in the moment as I sit in classrooms observing and writing; they have a raw and unedited quality to them.
CART: During break I walk to the rest-room, and notice many students in the central atrium texting, talking on their cellphones, or listening to ipods. I ask my “ambassadors” here, Timmy, Jimmy, and “Michelle” who has joined us, about the policy, and they tell me that here the rule is you can use your phone if you are doing so in a non-disruptive way, responsibly. More…
Bay School: At first my blogspot was blocked by the campus wifi student network; my guide Luis noticed this immediately and, and I like this a lot, took his own initiative immediately, emailing the tech office here at the school to unblock it. I asked whether I should try to do something, but Luis is very confident of himself as an “actor” here, and assured me he had it covered. And indeed, it is now unblocked.
Drew School: After what seemed a very short transition, I am now in French class with Simone; she is the TA, and before the teacher arrives, she immediately takes command of this group of freshmen and sophomores, asking them to take out their homework, which she is checking. She didn’t identify this when I asked her about authentic or applied learning, but it certainly is a great example. I haven’t had many opportunities to view high school “TA” work (ever?), and this seems great. How many Drew students do this, TA work? How systematized is it? I like it.
College Prep School Student Council: Lunchtime, I accompany Tim to his Student Life committee meeting, which he co-leads; this is a communication tool from students to the administration. More….
New Technology High School Biology Class: The teacher explains how groups will be chosen: “you all will fill out a job application.” More…
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