Do you want to run a Fortune 500 classroom or a test-score sweat shop?

Photo credit: Don Hamerman

If we want more well-rounded applicants for jobs and higher education, we should emphasize holistic learning in the classroom.  It is so easy to label a student as an A+ or D- kid.  But how many of us can look at students and say “ that is a C- biology student, but she has a great volleyball serve, a huge heart for the homeless and is doing pretty well considering her family’s home just went into foreclosure.”  The same is true in the work place, is everyone just “Joe in accounting” and “Sue the secretary,” or does the boss know “Joe in accounting with the new baby and the huge Atlanta Braves fan”  and “Sue the secretary that bakes the best brownies in town.”

Unfortunately, there are some companies that work their employees to death  with a high turnover rate and low worker morale.  But research the top companies and many of their successes are due to the individual successes and recognition of employees.  A company kickball team has no relevance to an accounting firm’s field of work.  But get a bunch of grown men on a grass lot ranting and running around together and then you’re opening up real connections among humans outside of spreadsheets.  Now Joe the accountant and Sue the Secretary are not only excited to show up to type away at their desk but to interact with their co-workers.   Ok, so what does an accounting firm’s kickball team have anything to do with education?

Now, as an educator myself- I’m not pointing any fingers.  When you see 90 faces a day, for only 90 minutes a day- it is hard to know the entire life story of every student.  But start with just one face and let them know that you care about their well-being and education beyond their level of mastery on the last quiz.  Ben, the D- student, does not want to walk around with that label for the rest of his life.  Ben may be an excellent artist and needs a little recognition and acknowledgement of this skill to light up his inner potential, keep him coming to class, and improving his academic performance.  On the flip side, Ashley the A+ student, may need to be challenged and/or recognized for her other strengths outside of “good grades.”   She may have a brilliant cure for AIDS one day but if she can’t communicate well or share her ideas then of what use is her intelligence?

So in your role as critically vital trainer of the future generation, do you want to run a Fortune 500 classroom or a test-score sweat shop?  Remember that your little classroom workers, are actual humans.  They are more than a standardized test score or letter in the grade book.

I would love to get your thoughts.

By Erin Burns

About the Author: Erin Burns is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who teaches Biology at North Mecklenburg High School.  Erin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Biology and minors in Education and Entrepreneurship.  A recent addition to the team, Erin looks to channel her creativity and passion for education-reform through the SKoolAide initiative.  Find her on LinkedIn, email her at, or follow @eburnsye on Twitter

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