School Reform in Your Own Classroom

What Schools Don’t Teach: 20 Ways to Help Students Excel in School and Life
By Brad Johnson and Julie Sessions
(Routledge, 2015 – Learn more)

vonstaden3Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

Want an insightful look at school reform, at least in your own classroom? Check out Brad Johnson and Julie Sessions’ book What Schools Don’t Teach: 20 Ways to Help Students Excel in School and Life. The authors look at those things that they believe are important for students of the 21st Century to learn in order to be successful in life after school, which we aren’t likely teaching in our classrooms.

what schools don't teach von stadenUsing 20 brief chapters (approximately 8 pages each) that contain their thoughts and the research, their personal experiences, “Did you know” boxes with links to more information, and ideas to try, Johnson and Sessions guide us toward teaching students things such as

• leadership skills,
•public speaking,
• persistence and excellence,
• accountability and responsibility,
• risk taking and a willingness to fail,
• empathy and effective interpersonal communication,
• creativity,
• teamwork,
• character development, and
• hot to apply learning to the real world beyond school.

The authors also provide chapters on using competition, pop culture, and technology to reach students and help them develop the skills they will need in the future.

Vigorous learning

I especially liked their replacement of Rigor with Vigor as a goal for our teaching. After all, as they note, rigor is synonymous with words and phrases such as harsh, inflexible, unyielding, and of course there’s “rigor mortis.” Vigor, on the other hand, “means having intensity, energy and enthusiasm.”

They argue that education today needs to be more adaptive and fluid and less rigid and inflexible, and that “vigor trains students to work hard and at a high level of excellence” (p. 110). They also note that mastering challenges and overcoming failure is what builds confidence, real self-esteem and long term success.

Solid strategies

This book provides solid strategies to make reasonable changes within our own classrooms and teaching practice. With effort, we can transform the education we are giving our students as we guide them to develop the skills, attitudes and characteristics that will allow them to be successful in the rapidly changing world they will face.

These strategies also allow us to start our own school reform within our walls and within the current confines of our profession. If you want to expand outside your teaching box and embrace a different future for education, this is a book you will want to read.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Special Education Middle School Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.


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