In the early 1990’s soon after Papa Doc left Haiti, I travelled with a group to Port Au Prince to build housing for teachers behind an elementary school. We were told ahead of time we would be working for and with Haitian builders.
One afternoon, one of our hosts pulled me aside. He lit a cigarette and held it between two calloused fingers. “Years ago, a group like yours came from the U.S.. They went to a small village with a truck full of lumber and supplies every morning and worked all day building a church. At night, they went back to a hotel somewhere in the city, no one knows where.”
He blew the smoke from his cigarette straight up in air, “They worked hard and stayed together all the time. Children would come to the edge of where they were working to watch, but they shooed them away, too dangerous, they said. They didn’t talk to the native villagers. They just worked. They built a wonderful church and then left. To this day none of the villagers worships in that church. They don’t believe it is theirs. That is why the villagers will supervise and take part in the building of the teacher’s quarters. When you leave, it will be theirs.” he smiled through squinted eyes and nodded, indicating it was time to get back to work.
I think this story carries some meaning for educators. We have built a system for our children without including them and in many cases, like the villagers and the church built by missionaries, they don’t see what we have created as theirs.
In the spirit of involving students in their schools, I want to share a wonderful resource:
recently developed by Dennis Harper.
If you don’t know Dennis, he is a one of the kind educational technology thinker, founder of Generation Yes, and fully, 100% committed to the simple proposition that students can play an important role in the life of schools. Whenever I hear Dennis speak, he reminds me that one of the greatest resources we have in schools, are our students. It is truly incredible how little we involve them. Doing so not only helps us, but has enormous benefits for the kids themselves.
The last time I saw Dennis he said, “Schools are faced with shortages of everything: teachers, tech support, and professional development opportunities. These things are obstacles to our technology vision. The only thing schools don’t have a shortage of is…students.”
Dennis provides 6 very practical tips on how to involve students involved:
1. Students serve on committees
2. Students serve as support staff and trainers for teachers
3. Students as technical support agents
4. Students as resource developers
5. Students as communicators
6. Students as peer mentors, peer reviewers, and peer leaders
Each of these roles needs preparation, thought, and structure. Most students need to be trained on how to work and train with adults. Tech support agents need clear guidelines as to what they can do and what they can’t. All the “But’s” we put in the way can be resolved. Our most precious resource is our students…
Why not build one or more of these roles into your technology plan?
“When the teacher is ready, a student appears.”