people in your neighborhood

Conference feedback: People in your neighborhood


This continues our regularly-scheduled series of feedback I got when I presented on our coming schools at the annual IERG conference. Here's the original post, if you'd like to reference it!

People in your neighborhood

Ask the students who they want to hear from — brainstorm to get possible questions to ask.

Ah, see, I'm seeing that I constantly need to hear the "let students have partial control over this, too!" I believe in it — I just sometimes forget it. Thanks, anonymous commenter!

Bring seniors into schools, giving them opportunities to share their wisdom (that they may have even forgotten they have).


Utilize elders!

For years I've been wondering how our schools can help bridge the youth–elder divide. And then I developed this curriculum piece, but didn't see that it's a way to fix this problem.

Thank you!

Cross section of adults, especially in a small community.

Fascinating — a totally different way to think about our goals for bringing in adults. I had been thinking in terms of representing different, say, vocations, or religions, or philosophies — but we'll need to consider whether we want our guests to also represent different socioeconomic classes and ethnicities (even if we never say so aloud).

Enriching people's visits with stories about their professions... and how these professions have had an impact.

I wish I could ask this commenter to explain this more. Do they mean that visitors can share stories about their work lives? Because that's already part of the plan. Or do they mean that stories can be told (by the teacher, possibly) about the history of the profession? (When a hair stylist visits, can we tell the story of where the red-and-white barber pole comes from? Should we set each job in Big History?)

I sort of like that — especially as it's nice to introduce the speaker. Maybe the teacher (and eventually a student) can prepare a 1-3 minute introduction.

They must tell a story, not so much about work, but about life!

Yes! Though with a proviso that putting the word "must" in becomes tricky — we can't control visitors.

I think I'd be happy if a baseline was "students ask honest questions, and the visitor gives honest answers", and if we use all our wiles to tease out fuller stories.

Can the kids return the visit? Choose adults they can have a day with in "their" workplace.

Like a Take Your Daughters or Sons to Work Day? Hmm — possibly! The logistics seem difficult, but there's something compelling in that possibility. (Maybe we could just actively celebrate the fourth Thursday of each April, encouraging parents to let kids come to work, and providing a curriculum for kids to do there — things to watch for, questions to ask.)

This can be a very powerful way of learning — there would need to be a clear template on how to pick these adults (ones who will be fun, interesting, appropriate, who know your learning journey and would make the learning relevant to the students, etc.)

Absolutely correct! At present, I've no idea on how to set this up. Lee, save me!

My most amazing learning experience ever was a visit to William Head Penitentiary. They put on dramatic productions — storytelling. They shared the true struggles of life.

If we could ever take our kids to a jail or prison, it would be amazing. Simply amazing. It would be a sign we'd succeeded in doing important things with children.

Another thing (not responding to a comment, now) —

Last quarter, I tutored a college class about finding one's careers. As one of the assignments, students had to pick three potential professions and research them. What sort of education do they require? How much do they pay (in money, and other benefits)? What are the job prospects like for the next 10–20 years?

Going through this with my student, I thought: my goodness, why did I never do this in school?

I just fell into a career. And I've done fairly well for myself, don't get me wrong — but some advanced scoping out of the possibilities would have been wonderful.

My college student did this in a formal way — better still would be to tie informal stories in with big data.

I'm still not sure exactly how we could do this, but just having students visit the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook after each visitor comes in could be a strong start.

We can raise our students to understand the broader world of work.

People in your neighborhood


A problem:

Kids are alienated from their local communities. They spend their time in school, so don't know what it's like to be an adult. Much of what they understand comes filtered through the media.

Schools can be focal points for bringing together a community. They can be places where a judge shows how to judge, and a manager shows how to manage, and a welder shows how to weld, and a barista shows how to bariste, and a congresswoman shows how to congress.

Typically, however, schools don't pull community in so much as shut it out. 

We can solve this.

Our basic plan:

  1. On a regular basis, we invite in a community member willing to answer student questions about their job, their religion, their life philosophy, or just their experiences.
  2. We help students prepare questions, which they will have the responsibility of asking.
  3. We develop traditions to set the guest at ease, and help them have a wonderful time: we're advertising the school to them as much as they're advertising their lives to us!
  4. We encourage an "ask me anything" atmosphere of question-asking, but at the same time train kids to be respectful.

Our goals:

We hope to...

  • Expand possibilities — in professions, in philosophy, in religion, in life choices.
  • Limit possibilities! (If we hear a student say, "Oh, I don't want to be a dentist/lawyer/teacher after all," we'll have done real good in the world.)
  • Multiply weak ties — that is, the connections students have with people who are outside their own groups. (It's been demonstrated that students who have few weak ties have more difficulties in moving up in socio-economic status.)
  • Have a lot of fun. People are interesting! We're vectors of interest — much more so than the textbooks some schools center on.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Our students asking meaningful questions to a guest — say, a bailiff, or a baker, or a banker, or a bartender, or a bassoonist, or a biologist, or a bishop, or a boatmaker, or a bodyguard, or a bookkeeper, or a bouncer, or a bricklayer, or a businesswoman. (Thanks to wikidot for help with that list!)

Some specific questions:

  • How do we set guests at ease? We shouldn't, for example, have the guest stand at the front of the room to be stared at. Nor should we make them begin the discussion (unless they want to). I presume we should tell them what to expect before they come, and then once they show up, help kids meet them at the door, and introduce them to a few others students in the class. Maybe we should give them a fancy "guest strawberry lemonade"! (The kids could make it. It could be delicious!)
  • At what stage can we get students to do the inviting? This is a great chance for students to practice the art of writing great e-mails (so, so hard!), and learning to work with adults. Really, the more we can train the kids to be in charge of this, the better!
  • How can we connect these visits to the rest of our curriculum? 
  • Should we create a long list of potential community members who'd be willing to stop by? Anything to make this easier would be great. We might also want to have a very regular schedule (say, every other Thursday, at 2pm) so very busy community members could plan their visit months in advance.
  • How often? Every week? Every other week?