Saturday, June 7, 2014

Busting out of the Classroom - Time to Break Free

Has the world gone mad?

I appreciate this is a bit of a loaded question but stay with me. 

This morning, whilst idly scrolling through my twitter feed I saw a tweet by Pasi Sahlberg (an educationalist that I hold in great esteem and who, incidentally, is fabulous to listen to if you get the opportunity). 

It caught my eye - I was curious - I wanted to read more.

It piqued my interest.  'Children's rights to breaks in school'. 

Back up the bus here for a moment.   In what modern 21st world would this ever be an issue, let alone something worthy of a tweet by such an esteemed educationalist? 

I read on.  

It transpires that a Chicago administrator sent this letter to their faculty.  
In the memo, the administrator outlines the implementation of two new policies to assist in maximising learning and academic attainment.  

The first, that there will be designated restroom times with 5 minute allocated slots and secondly, should students not train their bladders (my interpretation) to be able to use the restroom in their designated time slot, they will be entitled to two bathroom passes per term.  

It gets better.  

Teachers are encouraged to use their stop watches to time these 5 minute rest breaks, and to praise those who are 'timely' in their business. 

Rewards for unused passes will be given at the end of term, and filling out a 'log' will assist students in telling the time - analogue and digital!


In the blog post Pasi tweeted about 'Taught by Finland', the blogger outlines how in Finland going to the bathroom is a legal right.  Here in New Zealand, students can go to the bathroom whenever they need to.  Its not about law, its about a basic human right.  It defies logic to me that one would even need to mandate it, let alone structure this human right into a 'timetable'.  Here in NZ, the good teachers I have worked with have systems and processes in place so that students learning is maximised and mucking around in the bathroom is minimised, but no teacher or principal I know would dream of introducing such an anti child policy as this. 

Here's why.

- Children are entitled to go to the bathroom when their bladder dictates they need to.  I can't see any reason around academic achievement (or otherwise) that could ever be used as a mandate for such an antiquated policy.   It screams of distrust of students, teachers and misplaced angst about what is important in education.  Timetabling rest breaks should never be an issue.  I might understand processes needing to be introduced if it was because there was bullying, mucking around or general chaos during break times, but that is more about school culture and behaviour management than the need to be an over zealous administrator who needs to micro manage everyone and everything.   

- It is unhealthy to 'hold it in'.  As a parent it horrifies me that children are expected to 'hold it in'.  Imagine how disastrous this could be if a child is unwell, not to mention the concerns around risking urinary track infections.  

- Parents would be outraged, as they should be. I find it ironic that in the 'land of the free' students are dictated as to when and how their bladders operate.  Parents at this school should be standing up asking serious questions about priorities.   Stories of teachers running into a spot of bother with parents when accidents happen are not uncommon.  However, there is a difference between a shy little person not telling the teacher when they have had an accident, and a policy such as this.  If you do a quick google search you will see that mandating how and when students go to the bathroom is reasonably common, particularly in the US.    There is even a story of a teacher who charged students fake money to go to the restroom (I suspect it was part of a maths topic that went haywire and the media took it upon itself to beat it into a story bigger than Ben Hur).   Suffice to say, just as the teacher in Finland stated, here in NZ going to the bathroom is a normal everyday right.  

- Little peoples bladders are inconsistent at best. Have you ever taught 5 and 6 year olds?  When they need to go, they need to go.  No timetables or silly bathroom passes will change that.  I know none of my teachers would withhold the right for a student to go to the bathroom, in fact, our teachers remind the little ones to do just that, because when you are a child you are more interested in the fun things you are doing in class, the exciting playtime options you can explore during playtime (recess) and lunch time, and of course what is in your lunch box.   Remembering to go to the bathroom is the least important thing in your mind.  

- Morally, it's wrong.  For those students who have 'accidents', think about how this will impact on their self esteem.  This kind of mandate is asking for accidents to happen.  Professionally it's abhorrent - which century do we live in?

- Schools are about learning, exploring and growing citizens.  What does this kind of dictatorial policy decision teach children?  That schools are only interested in your academic well being, not social or emotional, and that you are a number to be timetabled, catorgorised and dictated to.  Even your bladder must conform.  I repeat, what century are we living in?

- Schools are not prisons.  I'm no expert in prison doctrine but I imagine even prisoners are entitled to go when they need to go.  I can imagine there would be a human rights uproar if adults were subjected to bathroom passes (2 per quarter) and timetabled rest stops.  I imagine there would be a black market emerge for illicit hall passes.  In this case the administrator has already pre thought this and students must sign for their passes.  Seems over overly anal, (a kiwisim meaning terribly detailed orientated) to me, pun unintended. 

This story, however, points to a much larger issue that should concern all educators.  

I can understand the pressure that must be placed on administrators in places like the US to perform, and I have some sympathy for wanting to crack down on lost time as they attempt to meet all this standardised policy.   

But here's a thought.  

If you want better academic achievement, rather than introducing top down, anti children policies that you think will produce a streamlined timetable and therefore increase student learning time,  invest in the things that make a difference to students learning.  

Invest in your teachers pedagogy about how students learn, what inspires children, and show them that you trust their professionalism.  Ask them how they think they can turn things around.  Give them the skills and tools they need to do their job, encourage parents to be a part of the learning journey and most of all, let children be children.  (I could wax lyrical about this in more blog posts than you could ever read, suffice to say - there are better ways to inspire - find them - find a way to work within the standardised mandates because quality teaching will always prevail)

It saddens me that the neo liberal G.E.R.M keeps on infecting countries, schools, and educational administrators, like an overzealous sneeze.   As a result ill placed policy mandates like this surface.  I have posted about this trend before, where administrators from Elwood Public Schools felt they needed to shut down the really important things in a school (the kindergarten play) in order to chase down academic success and raise test scores.  New Zealand policy makers have been attempting to enforce more standardised mandates upon the public education system here and in doing so dismantle all the things that made us world renown and similar in doctrine to Finland.  

Stories like this serve as a warning to educators in New Zealand and other countries that are hell bent on ramming neo liberal policies down the public education throat.  This is where the madness that is standardisation, competition and rising levels of inequity leads.  We do not need or want it.

Whats next - a ban on playtime and lunchtime?

Ps On a more facetious note, perhaps the teachers could play Queens 'I want to break free' - it goes for 4:27, that would give students an extra 33 seconds to get back to class!  

Additional Information:

The Memo:

Dear Faculty,
Welcome back and Happy New Year! In order to maximize student learning and reduce the loss of instructional time, we are implementing two new restroom policies.
1. Designated Restroom Times - Take your class to use the restroom only during your allotted time so that multiple groups of students are not competing to use the facilities. Also, the expectation is that the restroom break should last only five minutes. Before leaving for the restroom, clearly communicate the behavioral expectations and the time limit. Use your watch or stopwatch to time the students and praise them when they meet the behavior and time expectations.
Sign up for your restroom time slot in the main office by Tuesday, January 7. 
2. Restroom Passes - In addition to scheduled restroom breaks, students will be given restroom passes to use if they need to use the restroom outside of the scheduled time. Students will be given two restroom passes to use between now and the end of the quarter. They can choose to hold on to them and trade them in for a reward at the end of the quarter. Following these guidelines:Have students fill in their names as soon as they receive them. Passes are invalid if names are crossed out for another name.For the upper grades, students can use one teacher's pass in another classroom, but they still only get the same number of passes per quarter.Use a class roster to have student initial next to their name to indicate that they received the passes.Have students fill in the "time out" and "time in" and then turn the pass in to the teacher when finished. This will help them practice the CCS of telling time with both digital and analog clocks.
Promote the benefit of not using the passes by reminding students that rewards will be given for left over passes at the end of the quarter.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Thank you,

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