If you ask high school kids to describe school in one word…

by Steve Wyckoff on February 1, 2010

If  you ask high school kids to describe school in one word, what word would they choose? I’ve asked this question for years, I’ve had four answers, worthless, prison, sucks, and


I do get the occasional answer that varies from these four, for instance I had a professor from a College of education tell me that he was positive most kids would answer with words like, invigorating, interesting, and stimulating. I suspected he may have been abusing drugs.

Phil Schlecty says that we get kids who are engaged in one of four ways:

Authentically engaged: these are the kids that are so engaged in what they’re doing that they lose track of time. They look up and the bell is ringing, and they didn’t even know that the end of the period was at hand. These are the kids that Csikszentmihalyi would say or in “flow.” This is the state of engagement that we should try to achieve as often as possible, but rarely see especially in our core curricula.

Ritualistically engaged: these are the kids that say, “Don’t tell me what I  need to learn, tell me what I’ve got to do to get an A.” These are the teacher pleasers. They’ve learned how to play the game of school. Sadly when we talk about students being engaged, we mean ritualistically engaged. These are the kids that turn their homework everyday, show up to class every day and on time, smile at like they care, and do what they’re told.

Passive compliant:  these are the kids that say, “Don’t tell me what I need to learn, tell me what I’ve got to do to get by.” These are the students that the teacher has the unwritten agreement with, if they don’t bother the teacher, the teacher won’t bother them. Sadly these kids float through school making passing grades, just barely, never being authentically engaged, and never understanding the joy of being in a state of flow.

Rebellious: these are the kids that just don’t tolerate the system and let us know about it. Their needs aren’t being met but they refuse to sit by passively as victims of the system. They rebel in different ways, some angrily, some through passive aggressiveness, and some who just quit coming, either literally or intellectually.

I think the Phil Schlecty has one of my most often quoted statements. Phil Says

” A teacher’s job is not to teach kids. A teachers job is to create meaningful engaging work whereby the kids learn the things we want them to learn.” –  Phil Schlecty

I think he’s right on target. If we give kids work that is meaningful and engaging to them, and it teaches them the things that we want them to learn, we will have made great strides toward improving our schools. Our goal should be to constantly increase the level of authentic engagement on the part of every student in the system. – Steve Wyckoff

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