Ownership in learning and in the school itself

“Hey Dr. Markham, we got something for you!”

“Really?”  I’m awkwardly dragging my bags and supplies out the school gate as I respond to two approaching  9th grade girls.

“Yeah.  Some fish!” they exclaim in unison.  I spot the bulging bag and am instantly touched.  Their smiling faces warm my heart that dark and dreary afternoon.  They excitedly open the bag up so I can see their selection.  I peer down into the brown paper bag and identify two guppies swimming in the plastic bag within.  I am relieved that they’ve chosen relatively hardy fish.   My heart yearns accompany the girls back into the school and help them add the fish to one of the tanks but I am in a rush to pick up my son’s cat from surgery so I explain to them what they need to do and I let them into the gate as I depart for my car.

Of course, I really hope those fish will survive the night and that the school of goldfish in the tank won’t attack them.  The next morning as I enter my classroom I immediately check for my students’ fish.  Sure enough there they are, swimming happily around the tank.   My relief sends me down the hallway to  find my students and inform them of the fish’s well being.  With full enthusiasm the girls race into to my classroom to inspect the situation themselves.  Their enthusiasm is pure joy to behold.  They analyze the guppies’ movements and are convinced they are a “pair”.  They inform me of the names of the fish and I am truly grateful for these students and their donation to the fish tank.   There is something special about the fact that students have made the effort to pick out the fish and carry them to the school and up the stairs and into my classroom.  It gives the students some ownership to the classroom itself.

I’ll also forever be partial to “Harold” and “Rizz”, the guppy beauties among the gold fish, because they were hand-picked by students.

I’ve always sensed the wisdom and power in hanging student work around the classroom and in the hallways.  Now, I see equal benefit to allowing students to be the creators of the décor themselves.  Ownership.  There is power in not only ownership of one’s learning but ownership in one’s school itself.