by Kristilyn Oda
Suffocating silence ruled my high school history class. Curriculum and expectations were clear and concise. Week after week, we were given the same lesson plan every single period. Read the next textbook chapter and submit an outline. No thought-provoking discussion guided by my teacher, nor enduring learning was retained. Like my peers, I was a teen with pressing questions, facing societal issues, and launching into the future in which I would be charged with designing, navigating, and implementing complex solutions to our world’s problems. That semester, however, I did not walk out of that class viewing myself as a global contributor or as someone capable of leadership. I left feeling largely ignored, prepared as an exam taker, on my way to graduation.
In the United States, compulsory education is a path to enable students to secure jobs, supporting themselves and the economy. Only about half of the states and just 25 percent of major countries mandate attendance beyond 16 years old. Yet for many emerging communities, school is a privilege. Hard sacrifices are made to send a child to school. You don’t have to go. You get to go. Whether by law, custom or choice, children are greatly influenced by their teachers and schools, academically, emotionally, and socially.
For many students in Hawaii, teachers and schools have the ability to help clear the confusion cloud brought on by dysfunction at home. I changed locations a number of times throughout my childhood years due to family economics and as I adapted to a new lifestyle and landscape, my school became my haven. School offered hope, health, excitement, friendship, accomplishment, and stability. It was the safe, predictable place I could observe structure and cause & effect. The daily routine of academic subjects was punctuated by morning business, common procedures, recess, lunch, and dismissal. If I had incomplete homework, I would have an unpleasant consequence. If I studied, a glorious A+ followed. When I encountered teachers who went beyond simply teaching their content area, I gained a sense of well-being and belonging. This is what carried me outside school walls as I became more aware and equipped to navigate both challenges and opportunities.
My teachers were the ones who taught me life lessons that filled gaps left by parents who were either physically distant or emotionally drained. I learned the meaning of real community through my first grade teacher, Mrs. Ball, who invited our whole class to a pool party at her home. In another instance, a sixth grade teacher helped me understand fairness and empathy as he coached me to advocate for myself with a boy who was unkind. A middle school vice principal taught me about truth and justice as he drew out a confession from me during a disciplinary conference. A math teacher guided me through our first experience of deep collective mourning when she canceled instruction to watch breaking news about the space shuttle disaster. My photography teacher taught me responsible decision making and self-management as he gave opportunities to connect exploration with creativity. My art teacher helped me learn to appreciate and respect the talent of others, even when my own ability was lacking. My accounting teacher taught me goal setting and grace when a long-term project was lost. Furthermore, a memorable psychology teacher taught me how incredibly unique and interesting humans can be and how developing relationship skills can be so meaningful. Although these learnings aren’t written explicitly in the school curriculum, these are the ones that endure. If missed, it proves detrimental to communities.
In the 1,000 hours per year that educators are entrusted with students, precious life lessons can be imparted or squandered. We have started to see praiseworthy frameworks bubbling up in education reform circles that prioritize this essential learning for children. Hawaii Department of Education and Board of Education’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2020 highlights the policy efforts to cultivate student success by addressing the whole child. Thus, we look forward to expanding the emphasis on social-emotional learning statewide. There is an urgency to make intentional decisions as we hone these vital competencies in our students. As community leaders and parents spark ideas to support our schools, write on your heart the exponential impact of an educator on each child. Never underestimate the opportunity and purpose of making a positive difference in the lives of students. It can change the world.
Addressing the WHOLE child can change the world.