Today I spoke with a Principal from a Power2Learn Field Research site in Kansas. He took the time to reach out to me, to share some experiences and reflections from their Power2Learn experiences this year. It was a very satisfying conversation—not because he told us that our program is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or that there aren’t any areas for improvement. But I think his sense of perspective was important: basically, he felt we’re 85% there; we need to make some changes to allow for more teacher flexibility in the implementation, streamline the feedback process so that educators can give us more real time feedback, and reduce the overall data collected—to name a few.
Here’s what really stands out to me on the challenge of what we’re trying to do:
- Students feel like they’re in a remedial course because of the intense and intentional focus on things they feel like they already know. When in fact, these character competencies (giving and receiving feedback, time and stress management, collaboration, creativity, acting with integrity) are something that adults work on throughout their lives. Research shows that students need these to a higher degree in post-secondary education, the workplace, and as parents. We did a poor job this year of making the sell to students to show them that we’re preparing them to have an advantage, over their peers who won’t have had the knowledge and skills to navigate these challenges.
- Youth are particularly tough customers. They resist things that are new and different, and they can really rally around each other and a cause—especially if that cause is one where they feel they have been wronged, or are asked to do something that is unreasonable. In this case they really rallied around the idea that this is stupid; we already know this; it’s not fun; it feels like a class; I don’t want to do this. Often their body language—and their actual language—conveyed: this sucks! Andy yet, many students we spoke to, and may stories we have heard anecdotally suggest another story. I remember the Liz Murray story; I loved the DeLasalle video; the P2L Blueprint-4-Life was awesome; I used the P2L Stress Management process in a parent-teacher conversation, etc. I don’t know why we expected students to love the program (or us). A colleague has often said, “we shouldn’t evaluate if they liked it, but if they intend to use it.” We do want to engage them, to understand what matches well to their learning styles, etc. But we need to do a course evaluation at the end of the year, and then again in few more years when they realize that this “stupid course” gave them survival tools for a lifetime. One quick example: the Principal I spoke to this morning described how his son started to use P2L concepts to help make sense of and handle some struggles with sports injuries he suffered this year, and in conversations with his mother around being responsible and acting with integrity at end of year graduation parties.
- We can’t teach in schools from our office. We tried to make it teacher-proof, and there’s no such thing. Some of the biggest complaints we heard about the program from teachers were things like: I needed more time; I needed less time; I don’t like the voice-over you use; I thought it was going to be a plug-and-play. In other words, we often heard competing critiques, which makes sense since no two teachers or classrooms are alike. Teachers also said things like, “students don’t like it.” Or, “students don’t think they need it.” On the one hand, we tried to, and will continue to work at making this something students like, and helping them to understand why they need it. On the other hand, do students love math and think they need it? No usually. That’s teaching, right? You’re passionate about math and then realize that you teach students who don’t give a darn about math. Your challenge is how to make them care about, and learn about something they’re not interested in. Well, the same is true for our programming. We can give you essential knowledge and tools for teaching, but for now at least, teachers must be willing to make it fit their needs and the needs of their students.
Our next version has some exciting new changes that should build on the strengths of this first version, while allowing for important changes that will improve next year’s experience.