The other day I spoke to a group of students at our academic Honour Roll assemblies. For the last few years I have attended and spoken at these assemblies with mixed emotions and a sort of tension in my “gut”.
I have written before about awards in high school and the need to walk a bit of a “tight rope” . Yet the other day, as those students that had achieved academic honors were being called up, I couldn’t help but notice how we were, once again, “sorting” our students.
Following the roll call, in a moment of inspiration and vulnerability, I spoke the students and implored them to not be defined by how they are sorted in school.
Our education system is obsessed with sorting students. Academic ability, athletic ability, gender, creative ability, age, “diagnosis” – we have found any and all ways to sort students. In most cases, I understand why we do it and understand the systemic forces that drive the sorting. I don’t necessarily agree with it.
Ken Robinson has eloquently and convincingly has made the case for changing our educational paradigm.
Perhaps the best way to shift the paradigm is to empower our students to push back against the system.
In my message to our students I asked them to do just that. Push back against the system. To force the adults, most of whom profess to be about “students first”, to expedite some the shifts we are looking for.
I also asked the students to, regardless of how they are sorted by the system, to not be defined by this sorting. I asked them to follow their hearts, their passions. I asked them to explore new opportunities, to always persevere and put their best foot forward. I asked them to define themselves NOT by any external achievements, but rather by their own internal best efforts and passions.
As the assembly ended and staff and students streamed out of gymnasium, I (naively) felt better that I may have mitigated the negative effects of the sorting we had just participated in.
I also walked over to my Vice Principals and reminded them that we need to initiate a broader conversation about reforming what we are doing with our Honour Roll Assemblies.
I hope the students took my message to heart and will put the necessary pressure on us adults to rethink how we are sorting our students…..