Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What do I want students to be?

By Mark Heintz

The inspiration for this post comes from the Modern Learners podcast with Pam Moran and Ira Socol. I recommend everyone listening to it.

What do I want students to be?  Most of my career, I answered this question with some vague response such as be college graduates, obtain a technical certification, or just generally have a life plan. I’ve also thought that students should be filled up with every discipline’s essential knowledge (not sure what that even means, but I am pretty sure I’ve said it. It also sounds cool: Essential knowledge.  Like every student will need to know when the Ottoman Empire took over the Byzantine. 1453. Sigh.).

But, that’s not really what the question is asking.  What do I want students to be? This isn’t just for when they leave school, or when they enter school, but also when they are in school.  So, let me rephrase the question: What do I wish all students were like?  If I could wave a magic wand and make all students have certain traits, what would those traits be?  Well, I’m waving my wand.  Here is what I want my students to be.

  • Students are healthy.  I want students to be healthy. It’s near impossible to learn if you aren’t.  And, it’s not enough just to know what good physical and mental health means. They should have good physical and mental health.  
  • Students are empathetic.  Students should care for others and be mindful of others’ lives.  Not just for those in their community, but for everyone.  
  • Students are learners. It’s disingenuous for a school to believe they can give students the skills and knowledge that will sustain them for life. But, we can make them learners. If they are learners, they will be able to adapt as the world changes.  What do I mean by learning? You can read that here. 
  • Students are curious.  They need to want to know things. They should enter school with questions needing to be answered and leave school with even more questions.
  • Students are in charge of their learning. They should have agency and make choices.  I wish for this deeply. 
  • Students are literate. I define literate by having competence or knowledge in a specified area. To rephrase, students are literate in the specified area of their choice.   
  • Students are connected. They should be collaborative with not only those around them, but should reach out beyond their community to help them and others debate, share, and diversify to maximize learning.
  • Students are persistent.  They should be able to continue learning about something that is curious to them and endure when things get challenging or daunting.  
  • Students are reflective. They should be thinking about what they did, how they did it, and what they would do differently. 
  • Students are decision makers.  When faced with a choice or the unknown, they should be able to make decisions that they thought out and not needing someone else to tell them what direction to turn.  
I want my students to be healthy, empathetic, learners, curious, in charge, literate, connected, persistent, reflective and decision makers.

Why aren’t most students this way? I know there are a lot of reasons outside of a teacher or school’s control.  But, I don’t want to be cynical; I want students to be this way.  This is my mission: To ensure every student is healthy, empathetic, a learner, curious, in charge, literate, connected, persistent, reflective and a decision maker. Instead of focusing on preparing them for an unknown future or browbeating content knowledge into them, I want to create conditions for these traits to develop if they aren’t already there.  My attention is to focus on lesson and course design to instill these qualities in them not to better teach the causes of World War I.  I aspire to have each day every student walking through the school have their teachers focusing on these ten characteristics.

 Call to Action

Write down what you want your students to be.  Then make a shift in your practice to allow for those things to happen.  If you are bold, and you should be, share your list with your students, your school, and make them public.  Debate them, change them, and hopefully get your school to have the same value system.


  1. What shifted in your practice to allow for those things to happen? What does your classroom look like? What activists do you engage your students in Matk?

  2. For years, I have been questioning the purpose of what I was doing. I would ask those around me why we are doing particular things the way we were. My school did a lot of peer to peer class visits and follow ups, which led me to seeing the same things happening in all of my classes. Then last spring I went through Change School. I would seriously check it out and starting following what they are posting.

    What does it look like? I have written a few posts on that as well.

    I am always willing to talk over Zoom or Google Hangout if you want to talk more about it as well.

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