Saturday, May 17, 2014

Passionate Learners: A Humble Review

After reading Pernille Ripp's book, Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back To Our Students, there are three words that immediately jump to the forefront of my mind... passion, control and voice. Are those necessarily original words when it comes to books directed at educators? Probably not but what makes this book different is that the ideas of passion, control and voice are directed at both the educators and students in our classrooms today. Pernille stresses the importance of passion, control (not in the way most of you are probably thinking) and voice for every person in the classroom because these concepts should be central to the educational experience; these concepts should guide the educational experience; these concepts should inspire and empower both the learners and teachers in the room... and by the way, both the educators and students should be learners and teachers each day. From my vantage point, these are the themes and concepts that are central to this excellent book.

So, I have never written a book review before but I am going to give it my best shot. The book is well written and filled with voice - as I was reading it, I felt like I could hear Pernille talking to me. Her passion, conviction and voice permeate the book - it is clear to me this book comes from her heart and soul. The book is easy to read and structured in a way that includes the theory behind her thinking, tips on how things might look in the classroom and links to some amazing resources that would be useful to every educator! 

As I see it, the book is her take on what teaching is for her (her own manifesto of sorts)! Now let's be clear, Pernille's take on teaching is not necessarily what it should be or will be for everyone else but it is her "guide" to teaching; her vision of school; and her suggestions on how things might look in any given classroom. Fortunately, on many levels, her take on schooling and life in a classroom is somewhat unconventional and goes against what many of us learned during our education classes and ultimately, I think that is what I love most about this book. She pushes back on homework, offers a unique take on rewards and consequences and even tackles the Common Core standards through a different lens than most educators today and honestly, that is what I found so refreshing and inspiring about this book... a classroom handbook of sorts. 

Did I agree with everything in the book? No. For example, as a building principal, I do think about the teachers who send students to my office the most (Pernille suggests that principals don't keep tabs on that but I do in a very informal way) because once a student comes to my office as a consequence, the control has been shifted from the teacher to me and I don't think that is a great thing. The way I see it, from the moment a student is sent to the Principal's office for a consequence, the teacher has relinquished control and the relationship between that teacher and student will forever be different. Again, this is just my take on that idea. Additionally, Pernille points out the flaws with reward systems but the truth is, I have seen reward systems and behavior plans make a world of difference for some of our most involved students. There are students who benefit from a structured behavior and reward plan that reinforces the positive behavior they need to be successful and safe. Does every kid need that type of plan? No. Should we be "bribing" kids to do their "job" (aka - being a learner)? No. But does a black and white reward system work for certain children? Yes. Even though I did not necessarily agree with Pernille on these points, I love that she gave me a different way to look at them and consider them - she has helped broaden my lens!

Now, back to the three words that jumped into my mind when I was done reading the book... passion, control and voice! You see, each person in the classroom needs a dose of all three of these things to be successful. Everyone should have an opportunity to follow their passions - especially the students! Everyone should share control of the learning process as it unfolds in the classroom - especially the students! Everyone should have voice in the way teaching and learning looks in the classroom - especially the students! Although earlier I qualified this book as a "handbook" of sorts for educators, the focus is really on the students (hence the title). The focus is on creating a truly student-centered classroom where students are empowered to use their voice to take control of the learning and pursue their passions. 

We need to see students as partners in the teaching and learning processes - not just receivers of information. We need to learn from our students and let them direct us at times. We need to invest in genuine relationships with our kids - our children need to feel valued, respected and appreciated. Our children need to be reminded that making mistakes is often critical to learning and is a positive thing. Our children need to know that everyone might show what they know and understand in a different way and that is acceptable - one size does NOT fit all. Our children need to know that school is a partnership and that the classroom is their space to explore, learn and grow.... to take risks and push their thinking... to fail on the journey to success... to laugh, talk and engage on their terms. Our children and educators need to remember that our classrooms belong to our students and we are there to support, encourage and empower them because only then will we be able to give our classrooms back to our kids! 

Thank you Pernille for sharing your book with me... you have changed my thinking and helped make me a better educator and leader. With that in mind, I strongly suggest that every educator read this book whether they agree or not because ultimately, we are all motivated by doing what is in the best interest of children, right?    

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