Trussville City Schools has actually been in existence for five years and have worked with the Schlechty Center since our inception. At first, this was very hard for some of our teachers and even community members to embrace. It is a major paradigm shift from how we traditionally think about students’ role. Historically, we have thought . . . I taught it (the content) and they learn it. But this is really superficial and in many cases regurgitation of facts, but not profound learning.
We know so much more about learning now. We know that for students to learn at high levels (profound knowledge); they need to be deeply engaged in their work. Their curiosity must be peeked; they must see relevance to the real world so that they do not viewed their school work as busy work, irrelevant, or a waste of their time. So, we have grown in our understanding and appreciation for the notion of students as customers.
To do this, the leadership (especially the superintendent, principals, and board members) must be committed to this belief and then work together to build capacity. In other words, create experiences that cause teachers, parents, and community to understand why it is crucial that we must respect students as learners and see them as our customer.
One of my favorite quotes is from Phil Schlechty, “Students don’t learn from work they do not do.” Once teachers spend time thinking about their “who” (viewing students as their customers) and begin designing work that causes students to be engaged and thus learn the content at high levels, teachers become affirmed and then see the value of creating work and learning experiences tailored to the students’ interests and motivation (but the content is non-negotiable).
For this to occur, it is essential for leaders to create powerful learning experiences for teachers and staff to develop an understanding of how viewing students as customers increases student learning. Once there is a critical mass (enough people understand and embrace this), it starts to change the overall culture of the school and system.
Our teachers started by identifying difficult to teach and hard to learn concepts. They ask the question, is this difficult concept worthy of design? If so, teachers work together to create a learning experience that causes students to be deeply engaged in their work. When students are engaged in their school work, student behavior improves.
Assessment is a slippery slope. I worry that some of the things we teach are not assessed on standardized tests. For example, we are really focusing on helping students think mathematically, not just solve algorithms. This still remains a challenge, which is why we really need to rethink and revise some state mandated assessments. However, local assessments can be tailored to assess students’ level of understanding. I still think we have a long way to go on assessing students’ learning.