I anonymously observed a staff development day recently.
The focus was on everything but academics. Instead, it was the usual mishmash of social and emotional well-being.
This led to a decision to lower school-wide standards.
“Students can take a break and leave the classroom anytime they like.”
“Removing deadlines will help all students succeed.”
“Yoga pants are fine for school-age children.”
“At the teacher’s discretion, students can now listen to music during class.”
No surprise, the school was also dirty and cluttered.
I don’t think that anything I observed, however, is rare. One of the benefits of running SCM is that I hear from teachers from all over the world.
Lowering standards has accelerated rapidly since the pandemic.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in helping students if they’re struggling mentally. Creating tough, smart, mature, motivated, and kindhearted souls is baked into everything we recommend here at SCM.
Social and emotional well-being is important, without a doubt. I just disagree with the way schools are going about it.
Lowering standards removes purpose. It weakens pride in excellence. It encourages students not to care and feeds the growing malaise and troubling misbehavior infecting our schools.
It makes everything worse, not better.
The response to finally coming out of the pandemic, and all the immaturity and lost learning as a result, should be a raising of standards. It should be urgency and detail and the pursuit excellence.
It should be belief in students and their capacity to overcome obstacles and use the challenges of the past as a springboard to greater determination and success.
The best thing for mental health is having purpose. It’s having goals and aspirations bigger than themselves and high standards to strive for. When you take this away from students and ease their way you leave them rudderless.
You remove the deep satisfaction in doing well. You weaken the value of school, leaving it and them bereft of meaning and fulfillment.
The result is that students will look for purpose elsewhere – whether online, in gangs or drugs, or in extreme misbehavior born of frustration and emptiness. Those that don’t find it struggle with depression, anxiety, and a gnawing sense of nihilism.
There is a legion of school leaders and teachers who are lowering standards and patting themselves on the back.
They peacock around, high on their own warped perception of empathy, pretending to save the world and reveling in their self-importance. So sure of themselves they are.
But all the while they’re crushing our students. They’re snuffing out their motivation and any joy of learning. They appease and excuse those who disrupt and bully, and leave scores of students afraid, silent, and demoralized.
So what should a professional development day look like?
It should be focused on how to elevate standards, improve teacher content knowledge, teach compelling lessons, and effectively manage a classroom.
Doing our job as educators and being experts in just these areas is far better for our students’ mental health, not to mention their future, than a thousand hours of psycho-babble that may make sense to the uninformed but do NOTHING to actually help students.
PS – My new book Inspire will be available October 4th.
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