Kids First or Learning First?

As educators, we are aware that our job is about children and providing them with the very best learning experience possible. However, any organization or system has those people who forget this and at times even act in ways that impede this mission.  The recent shifts to focus on learning as opposed to teaching along with an increased emphasis on personal learning are welcome changes and are helping to do right by children.

However, like all good ideas and efforts, there are always subtle misuses of these sentiments and ideals. I seem to have a hyper-sensitive radar for language, and it often is no more evident than when I read pithy hashtags and quotes on Twitter. These catch phrases are often the ones most viral and need to be examined in some detail before we simply add them to the lexicon of school.

When I see something like this being shared, it concerns me.

I believe in developing a community of learners. By learners I mean everyone. Certainly, as adults and educators, our job is to provide for children.  But sometimes, these types of statements are used to ignore or minimize the well-being of adults.  It’s very hard to argue with cute kids faces on posters. So the moment an adult expresses concern about working conditions or something that might make their life easier, it’s seen as selfish and anti-kid. I recall a time when a teacher complained about being in a classroom in the basement. Since the teacher talked about her dissatisfaction as opposed to how it impacted learning and her students, the request to change was denied, and she was seen as an uncaring, self-centered teacher. Yes, she would have been smarter to talk more about how the environment was detrimental to learning, but because she focused on how it impacted her, it was taken less seriously.  Perhaps she was putting her needs before her students, but that shouldn’t have made the issue moot.  I share that example knowing that it doesn’t give you all the information about other options or more detail about the school but I share it because leadership pulled the “kids first” card without taking the time to explore the needs of the teacher at all.

I’ve also seen the “kids are all that matters” card played for leadership to push through initiatives. When you play this card often, you get to label any dissent in a very bad light. It mostly makes everyone uncomfortable with challenging ideas. This is sometimes used during conversations about inclusion. Once inclusion is seen as the only solution that puts kids first, it paints anyone who questions it as someone who doesn’t care about kids. Often adults do consider the negative impact on themselves because as human beings that is natural. That consideration doesn’t mean it’s right, but it should be regarded as a factor. If teachers are not happy, it’s tough to create the best learning for children. Simply telling them to “suck it up” or “put kids first” doesn’t address the issues.

Don’t read this as someone who doesn’t favor inclusion or thinks teachers should always get their way. But I am asking you to consider the inclusion of everyone involved and ensuring all voices are viewed as valuable.  Students, undoubtedly need their voices elevated, but also the adults who are the primary caregivers in schools need consideration. Yes, there are many times when as adults we sacrifice our comfort but this is something that should be the exception. If we create the right environment, decisions we make will benefit everyone.  I’m not sure there is a need to rank or prioritize. A good leader does not make anyone feel less important or relevant but works to create a real community where everyone feels attended to and cared for. If you still feel a need to rank, stick with learning first but don’t pit kids vs. adults.