Elective Days: The Road to Self-Actualization

About six years ago to the date, I had the good fortune to meet Chris Wejr through twitter – in fact he was one of the first that I “followed”. I remember reading one of his posts entitled,Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are.He spoke ardently about his belief that educators should help students develop their unique talents and interests:

Every child has a gift; it is up to us, as educators, to create the environment that encourages the student to develop this strength and passion.

As it was then for me, it still is today: my belief that schools should create environments that engage… should allow students to bring the outside world (their world) into the classroom… should provide engrossing experiences that encourage students to explore who they are, what they are about and to find strength and confidence in both of these explorations.

This post, provided by Bakerview Centre for Learning Vice Principal, Sean McLaughlin, is about creating an environment where we can engage students who historically have been disengaged. Sean is part of an educational team that provides students with alternative educational opportunities in an atmosphere where social, emotional and physical well-being are seen as important adjuncts to achieving academic success. Their school mission statement is profound in its simplicity: we believe in you.

When I think of the students at Bakerview, I think of all of their parents, the ones who like me still see a five year old when they lovingly (and sometimes frustratingly) cast their gaze towards their teenage child. These students, like Chris Wejr’s, truly are “gifts”; unfortunately, their personal and school based experiences over the years have served to rip away the glossy “wrapping” and as a result, both definitions of the word gift – a present and a natural ability or talent – have been lost, gone unrecognized or worse, are not part of a student’s self-actualization process.

The staff at Bakerview attempt to change this reality on a daily basis and in so doing, alter the life chances for the better for each
of their students. Borrowing from Abraham Maslow, the staff focus on human potential, believing that they can help their students strive to express their capabilities fully, and that this is the basis for happiness. As part of this road to self-actualization, the school is piloting an Electives Day which, like Chris’ Identity Day, serves to identify and develop students’ strengths and passions. Is it worth a mark? Well, let me ask you this: what’s the grade you give to the birth of your first born? What’s the summative assessment for each hug you receive from your child? The things that matter most don’t have a number or a percentage attached to them.

What follows is Sean’s story, the story of Elective Days at Bakerview Centre for Learning. I hope that as you read this and watch the 3 minute video, you will be reminded of the fact that what is happening here is in essence what the new BC curriculum will allow us all to do: minimize prescribed learning to maximize the possibilities for innovation, creative thinking, and ignite passion in students by allowing teachers to bring their own passions into their learning places. As I have always argued, passion may be innate but it needs to be modeled by adults within our school settings so that our students can see how it connects to learning and how it can enhance communal experiences.  Thank you, Sean, for providing the post that follows:

At Bakerview Centre for Learning, we seek to engage students, many who have been disengaged from school for some time. Our challenge is to reestablish a positive connection with school for many of our students. This desire led our teacher collaboration team to put together a school wide electives morning on February 21st.

On our electives day, students signed up for electives such as crochet, cookie decorating, guitar, iMovie, spaghetti bridge challenge, and intramurals in the gym. Teachers chose to offer these electives as it is an area of passion or something they wished to learn themselves. The video captures the sentiment behind the day, the results … and the smiles!

In total we had 89 students sign up and achieved 86% attendance overall. We were pleased with the attendance, but even more so, the mood in the building was positive and students and teachers were enjoying learning together. The momentum continued through the week with improved attendance. 

We conducted a student survey shortly after our day, and our results were overwhelmingly positive as well. From our Likert scale, 73% responded that they “really enjoyed the elective” and not one student would not want to continue with electives. More telling were the responses from students about why they enjoyed themselves:

  • It was relaxing. I felt good about myself.

  • That everyone was super involved.

  • It was my first time and I learned a lot.

  • It (crocheting) was calming and very fun to do.

Finally, 85% responded that they would like electives morning offered every couple of weeks or every month, and when asked for suggestions for improvement, most students asked for even more choice, to include their personal wishes, and to offer electives more often and not just dedicated to a special day.

Continuing with the positive momentum, we have another electives morning planned for April 25th, and have included more offerings like hip hop, yoga, rock climbing, sushi making, wood work, and leather crafting. The positive student response has led to staff wishing to share even more of their interests.

If we are able to offer students more choice in their education, and allow them to co-create with staff in areas of interest and passion, we expect to see increased engagement. The success of our electives morning confirms this belief.