Students who drop out of school do so, in most cases, after spending years there waving multiple red flags: lack of motivation, detachment, absenteeism, poor performance, conflict, difficulties managing personal relationships... I don't think students abandon schools. I believe society abandons students, and one day, finally, they say to all of us "enough". If there is failure, it is social failure, because building and maintaining an environment conducive to optimizing learning is everybody's responsibility, not just the responsibility of those who are more directly involved in school life.
Schooling and learning are two very different concepts, and it is very important to differentiate between them. All schools are schools, but, how many of them are true learning communities?
Due to history, tradition, organization, logistics, and inertia, entire educational systems, and many schools, have the tendency to focus on teaching, curricula, schedules and calendars. They tend to require that students and teachers adapt to preestablished structures that, for the most part, keep them disconnected from each other, and disconnected from the world outside of those structures. They tend, also, to the homogenization of contents, work styles, and assessment systems, and to use differentiation as almost a desperate solution for those who seem not to fit in and who have been officially documented and diagnosed.
Learning Communities focus not on teaching, but on learning; they don't focus on finishing syllabi, but on the holistic development of people (students AND adults). SLCs don't get stressed about schedules and calendars, but they tirelessly work for the ongoing development and expansion of deep curiosity and the desire to learn. In SLCs, organizational energy is not focused on pushing teachers and students to adapt to a given structure, but on building flexible structures that adapt to the interests, passions, and needs of students, teachers, and families. Relationships between individuals, groups, and generations, and between the community and its environment, are the fabric of SLCs. Relationships are the context where everything happens, and are everybody's priority. Diversity of all kinds, including learning styles, is recognized, enhanced, celebrated, and assumed as a strength and richness, not as a problem or a exception.
There is already a considerable volume of theoretical research and, what is more important, successful experiences that validate a Small Learning Communities approach. From all points of view, outcomes consistently show a clear improvement, sometimes spectacular, in relationships, motivation, sense of belonging, development of competencies, academic performance, attendance, and graduation rates.
Wherever there is a percentage of students dropping out of school, we can be sure there are also a number of educators, families, school administrators who are also emotionally and mentally disconnected from schools, absorbed by inertia, powerlessness, and lack of motivation. It is very important to understand that students run away from a certain way of doing things, from obsolete educational and organizational models, and that they leave because they can't find what they need in order to do what, in the words of Peter Senge, "is not only part of our nature, but we love": to learn.
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