How much do you trust your students?

From what I’ve seen visiting schools in this country, I’d say on the whole…not much. (Don’t feel bad; teachers and schools in the US trust students a lot less.)

The level trust we have for students and pupils is always made obvious when I visit other countries. Here are two examples.

Denmark: I visited the Hellerup School, a primary school outside of Copenhagen, which is set up with “home” areas for pupils

rather than anything resembling traditional classrooms. While there were desks, pupils sat on the floor, on the furniture, on raised wooden platforms, on sofas or wherever else they felt most comfortable learning. The “home” areas truly felt like homes, with complete kitchens and – much to my amazement – lit candles all over the place. Think about it: would we ever allow candles to be lit on a regular basis in a school in this country – much less a primary school? Hellerup School trusts that pupils are not going to injure themselves or start a fire with the candles.

Finland: We ran a series of meetings at a school in Oulu, Finland, which is about 200km from the Arctic Circle. Our meetings took place while the school was in session, and as such we were able to enjoy the regular school dinner as our mid-day meal. First of all, this was the best school dinner I’ve ever had – before or since. Second, it was served on actual ceramic plates with actual metal utensils and glasses made of glass. No one was serving the food; pupils were allowed to take as much as they wanted and go back for seconds. They were trusted to moderate themselves, eat in a reasonable manner and not break the dishes.

And here’s an example from this country. For years, Microsoft has run a Student Help Desk initiative around the world, which helps schools set up student-run technical support centres to handle all level 1 technical support within a school. This saves schools and authorities money in support contracts, teaches students technical skills and troubleshooting and customer support skills and does wonders for the self-esteem and confidence of every student support technician I’ve ever met. Yet MOST schools in the UK want nothing to do with this programme, as teachers don’t trust the students with their computers and ICT coordinators don’t trust students with the data they might see. I’m afraid I just don’t understand.

My experiences in Finland and Denmark may seem like small things, but they’re telling examples of how the culture in Finnish and Danish education is completely different. If students feel like they are trusted and valued, they will behave differently. If we want to be serious about things like personalisation of learning for each student, WE need to behave differently.

Here’s your chance. Stuart and I have blogged in the past about Futurelab’s Enquiring Minds curriculum, which trusts students to direct their own learning. Take a look at the new podcast on Enquiring Minds from Futurelab researcher Ben Williamson. It’s a 32-minute presentation created for the BETT show, and it talks to you about the enquiry-based learning approach and how you can get started. If this is something that interests you, go to the Enquiring Minds community on the Innovative Teachers Network and look at the Enquiring Minds Guide, Professional Development resources for teachers, and loads of other resources in the community. (You can find the Student Help Desk curriculum, training and resources on the ITN as well.)

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