This post comes from a recent interaction I had with my son, who just happens to be eight (see title).
I was speaking to him about staying home from school because he was sick. He had a fever the night before, and was not looking better as he said goodbye to me. The conversation went something like this:
ME: Ok buddy. So are you sure you want to go in today? I have meetings until 11:00. If you go in I cannot come get you until then.
SCOTT: I know daddy. I will go in. I have three tests today. I want to take them today.
ME: Oh yeah. Are you worried you will forget the material?
SCOTT: No. I know it good, but if I don’t take them today I have to make them up next week during recess and you know what?
SCOTT: Recess is really important.
ME: Oh, I know buddy. Are all the tests in the morning?
SCOTT: Yes. You wanna know what else?
SCOTT: Research shows (seriously, he said this…) that 3rd graders are more ready to learn earlier than college and high school kids.
ME: Wow! Research shows that? Nice job using research.
SCOTT: So daddy; why don’t you start school later? Why don’t you go to school later if its better?
ME: Uhmm….that’s a really good, but complicated question buddy.
SCOTT: You don’t have recess either do you?
ME: Uhmm…no buddy; we don’t.
ME: That’s another really good question that is also hard to answer, but it has to do with age.
I then left the scene before my age argument was refuted with any additional “research.” The best part about this besides reaffirming how much I love that little kid is the reflection it caused after. If studies show (and they do by the way) that the older a student gets, the later they should start school; why are we still letting tradition and sports schedules get in the way?
I couldn’t forget the other aspect of this conversation either. Recess is important. How often do we, as adults, say we need to step back and breathe or just take a break? Yet we cut it out of students’ day as we expect more mental energy from them. Why do we do that? One of the reasons, in my humble opinion is…who wants to go first and possibly be called out for “study halls” or the possibility of lower test scores?
So let me get this straight. Education is about helping students learn in the best possible fashion so that they can achieve the highest level possible…unless sports, bussing, or test scores get in the way.
My point is simple and does not really need to be about start times or recess. It is about clearing through the created clutter around decisions that should be simple to make, difficult to execute, but worthy of the fight because it is what is right for students. This is where the difficulty of leadership at any level lies. The evidence is clear until it runs into tradition. The path is clear until it becomes blocked by distractions. That is why we need to seriously think about how to disrupt, hack, or innovate within the current structure.
We talk about innovation in education because it needs to improve. This need is no secret. So, how many more meetings can we have before we take action? Personally, I am not much of a “band aid” person. We need to start working on long term, more permanent solutions rather than the new fancy idea strapped to the same structure.
As leaders we need to inspire the idea of this is the new way we do things around her to give our students the best educational experience; because they all deserve it. We need to research, take the evidence, and build a new road if needed. We need to lead by understanding that sometimes the right answer isn’t popular, change is uncomfortable, and we can’t know what will or won’t work without trying.
We need to lead by understanding that sometimes an open mind and the simple solution is often the best start and most important change we can make; like recess or starting a little later to get to our goal a little earlier.