A school of glass?

glass The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel did a series of investigative reports some years back on the city’s charter schools. Some, it reported, were amazing — I toured one myself, and my twenty-two-year-old self was blown away.

Others, it reported, were abominable: windowless rooms in which students scribbled answers on a never-ending series of worksheets.

The funny thing, the paper reported, was that parents didn’t pull their kids from the school.

This story has been lodged in my memory for years now, and I still don’t know how to make sense of it. Were parents not aware of the awfulness of the school? Were they hoodwinked by the administrators (who, if memory serves, took a nice fee for their work)? Did they just not care?

Famously, many contemporary teachers have an ideal of the closed classroom door. The superintendent, principal, and PTA may bark, but then the teacher closes the classroom door, and does what she believes to be best.

I get this — my allergy to bureaucracy loves this ideal.

But if we’re looking to display the wonder and glee of our students’ learning on display, I imagine we may want a little more transparency. If our kids are doing remarkable things, how can we show that to the community?

(I almost typed “show that to the world,” but the question of large-scale publicizing may properly be a separate topic.)

“Transparency,” the aphorism goes, “is the best disinfectant,” and there’s a move toward almost total transparency in (e.g.) government. Maybe full transparency is good in that realm, but in a school this is more fraught.

Good teaching / deep learning can be intimate acts. Putting teachers and students on display threatens to kill exactly what we seek to cultivate.

This may be the rare situation for which a metaphor to quantum physics actually is helpful — to observe the teaching/learning situation is to effect it. I know I lock up when a parent asks to sit in my classroom. I become a different person under observation, and don’t particularly like that person.

So: how do we do this? How could we do this? How do other schools do this?

One tact would be to have recurring “public showings” — monthly information sessions where we show the kiddos’ paintings and compositions and whatnot. These might be very useful (particularly because they could fit in nicely with parent work schedules) but they don’t seem very transparent. I wonder if we could really communicate what goes on in the classroom through these.

Another might be to have prospective parents and students just tour at any point. (The private school at which we both worked did this strategy, I think well.)

Should we even have doors for the classrooms?

Gah. So many questions.

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA