Dear My Kids: What is Broken?

Do we have a broken educational system?  Some say, “Yes” and others say, “No”.  In my opinion there are broken parts.  This post addresses those broken parts.

I am sorry for the system, expectations and regulations you need to maneuver through.  These rules were not created with you in mind.  That is why I apologize because you are not broken, there are parts of the system that are broken.

Now before I go on, this is a controversial post and there maybe some discomfort or confusion you may feel when you read this post.  These are my thoughts for my own kids.  This is an exploratory post that dives into my own broken mind during those late night hours when I can’t sleep.  If this post feels uncomfortable, then I encourage you to stop reading it, and then maybe come back to it later if you feel like you want to.

See, I feel like so many times as a teacher and a parent I stop your creativity due to time constraints, rules and meeting someone elses’ expectations.  I am told to abide by the rules and I have been told to be “in line with the [system]”. Somewhere along this gauntlet shame crawls in like a morning fog engulfing a river bank in Autumn.  Before you know it you have lost sight of your hopes, dreams, powers, strengths, and creativity.  See I too am in the fog.  Let me explain.


I am going to give you 10 thoughts on why I think kids aren’t broken, but it is the system that is.  First I must preference this by saying over a century ago the industrial world developed a school system meant to program and push out workers.  It was a system of rules, not based on relationships and individuality, and definitely not research, and even just 100 years ago, only a few attended:

“[A]t one time, not all children came to public school.  Children with physical disabilities and severe learning problems stayed home.  Children from poor homes, including new immigrants, worked in factories or at other jobs to help support the family.  Farm children worked the fields and didn’t come to school, except in seasons when crops didn’t require planting or harvesting.  Girls were often excluded from advanced education because of the perception that they would marry, raise children, and run a household, roles not to require much education.  Children of the very rich often had tutors or went to exclusive boarding schools . . .  Today, more kinds of children come to school and stay in school, bringing with them a greater range of backgrounds and needs.”  Taken from page 20 in The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson 2005 Pearson – Merrill Prentice Hall publishing.


This system suppressed the creativity and avoided questioning.  Questioning was a threat to leadership.  Order and rules were the norm and if you didn’t meet the expectations then there were dire consequences (the strap etc.).  Obey at all costs and then you could get to a higher rank and please the authoritarian teacher.  Somewhere along the lines of this tightrope act we focused on the rules.  One size fits all.

The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual, and thus to feel justified in teaching them the same subjects in the same ways.  Howard Gardner (in Siegel & Shaughnesssy, 1994) Phi Delta Kappan

We somehow tried to fit children into a box of edict and once they did that; there was reward and status.

This is where you and I come in.  We all have been fed the system and in order for us to continue to justify roles (self-preservation) and employment, as well as hierarchy, we keep up the well oiled machine, but this is at the cost of giving up on sharing vulnerability, empathy and creativity.  Whether you are a kid, teacher, parent, grandparent, friend, or whatever.  Here are 10 tangible ways to stand on the balcony above all this fog, and think about 10 ways to tangible start a conversation of change when you go back into the valley or your arena.

1. Change Your Language

We have the internet now.  Research is at our fingertips.  Anxiety levels are high; homework for elementary kids are proven detrimental; traditional spelling tests (one list fits all) are not considered beneficial and more.  Our Language and expectations need to change.  In the past rules were – Do This for Me; now change it to Let’s Do This Together.

Research the latest info on child-based approach, so we know our children and we care for them in different ways other than the default carbon-copy human, which is “pre-information-at-our-fingertips-on-internet-stage”.  Change our language from “I want you to do this” to “Let’s do this together”.  “You must act this way” to “We act this way because we are our class family”.  “Our class family cares for each other” instead of “Don’t do that!”  Focus on caring and open words.  For those who want to learn more then research terms related to a Fixed Mindset versus a Growth Mindset.

2.  Be Aware of Shame and Promote Curiousity, Creativity and Questioning

Our past school system was based on rules.  There is current research that tells us that vulnerability is the key to relationships and courage.  By giving our children time to play with curiosity, creativity, and questioning we allow a freedom for them to be themselves . . . children.  Why do we rush them into serious and adult study when childhood should be praised, preserved and appreciated – like a different culture.  And I am specifically talking about adults letting children make choices for themselves and the adults facilitating those choices.


3. Value Shame Resilience

Shame Resilience like Brene Brown talks about is so important.  Building an understanding of empathy between adult and child is important for both to be appreciated and seen (sawabona).

We spend so much energy focusing on only certain skills – such as Math Multiplication drills or those that can public speak – that we forget the other talents.  Somewhere along the time we shine our spotlights on the few so-called extraordinary and loose the rest at the expense of the system’s rules.

Then we start actually believing that the simple interests, plain moments, normal activities and in-the-moment creativity we have just isn’t worth sharing.  Shame creeps in “I internalize that I am not good enough”. We need to celebrate people’s journeys, cultures, talents, strengths, and innovations as spotlights themselves.  How do we do that?  Maybe its about just trying to acknowledge the uniqueness in everyone is beautiful.  Celebrating creativity and “misfit” interests as a beautiful thing to be celebrated.

A film from the Banff International Film Festival in 2015 had a gentleman share his story about why he goes mountain biking; does extreme jumps; travels long distances, and how did he never felt comfortable in a classroom.  He said, “If you are that kid misfit type you need a place to go”.

4.  Maybe It’s the Kids that Don’t need Fixing, Maybe It’s the Traditions?

Why is it that traditions can lead to the most beautiful essence of loyalty and longevity of love; but can also constrict, control and demand regulation to be met.  See traditions can be morphed into rules and that is the problem.  Protocols, traditions and rules are all important to some extent, but can cripple us if we become obsessed over the tradition rather than the care for the people within this system.

To the degree that we focus on developing intelligence in schools, educators seem convinced that only narrow, analytical slices of verbal and computational intelligence are important.  This is almost the same as nearly a century ago when the public believed that a bit of reading, writing and computation would serve learners well in an adulthood dominated by assembly line and agrarian jobs.  Schools still prepare children for tests more than for life.  Taken from pages 21-22 in The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson 2005 Pearson – Merrill Prentice Hall publishing.

Traditions often help those who seek stability, and solace from anxieties and trust issues, however I truly believe this has led to the oppression of creativity.  How do we change?  Let traditions be honoured, but not at the expense of creativity’s voice being silenced.  Also trust others that they have the best interest at heart, and that questioning and creative ideas are not a slam on traditions, but an opportunity to transform a legacy into a new creation.


5.  Look at Roles

If we want to move towards freeing creativity and building a foundation of curiosity we need to recognize some of the forces that work against us.

We grew up in the Traditional System and many of us it “worked”.  Those who chose teaching, I would bet majority of us it “worked” and we bought into the system.  My brother-in-law specialized in Math and my other brother-in-law specialized in Social Studies/History.  My husband specialized in Science.  This system worked for us, but now we still see our schools as places where we teach to these subjects.  This is not a bad thing, but it is important to say on why we still box subjects.

Some of us have come gained the name of “Math Guy” or the “Art Guru” and in doing so we become attached to this identity.  I definitely have.  Many of me know me as the “Tech Girl” and I continue to pigeon-hole subjects when really in our lives we don’t have individualized subjects but everything is integrated.  This has been my identity and for me – at times – has becomes a synonym of my worth.

We need to keep our identity too because some of us are Math people, English people etc.  We use self-preservation because it gives us value, but it maybe at the cost of exploring ideas through an integrated approach.  Letter grades pigeon-hole kids to believe they are not “a Math Guy” and being open to other perspectives and opinions.  This video called Thunder by Imagine Dragons is very interesting and has some insightful words to ponder.


6.  Look at Our Letter Grades

Stamping a grade (like a grade of meat) on the youngest of souls, I wonder if the system is broken and the children are the ones that are not. I still remember getting my first C – – (and yes, there were two minuses).

Assessments are interesting because we use them to convey the goal we would like our children to reach, but I wonder if we pigeon-hole our kids and why we can’t use language like Starting, Learning, Playing and Empowering?  Start the journey; learn the blocks; play with the ideas and empower yourself and mentor others . . . then repeat.  Focus on written feedback to specifically target areas of growth, rather than a letter stamp.

Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset is a concept formulated by Carol Dweck.  Here is a post that I found was very interesting abou the Growth Mindset and Behaviour Management in Classes.  Our language matters and just reflecting on how our self-preservation manipulates the way we teach is a starting point.  I think I may have to leave my thoughts about Formative and Summative Assessment to another post.

7.   Maybe They Just Don’t Know My Heart

Years ago a friend of mine came to learn a colleague said some hurtful words.  My friend’s response was “Maybe she just doesn’t know my heart?”  See I believe everyone is doing the best they Can.  People wake up in the morning and say I want today to be better than yesterday.  There is hope.

Why can’t we see our children saying that?  Let’s get to know our kids’ hearts.  What do they love?  Hate?  What is their back story?  What do they fear and love?  Let their heart flourish and be acknowledged as important, valued and seen.  Let their hearts flourish and be acknowledged as important, valued and seen.

They deserve a voice to change our classrooms.  If a unit or subject isn’t working then maybe just change it or alter it, or worse yet throw it out.  (As mentioned before I knew this would be a controversial post)  So for example if the 12 duotang approach in elementary school with a duotang for – Science, Writing, Reading, Speaking, Social Studies, Art, Journal, French, Math, Math Problems, Physical Education, Health and Career and other subjects are leading you to juggle so many balls in the air that it becomes overwhelming then try to shorten things to STEAM (Science Technology Engineering, Art and Math) or Humanities (Social Studies and Language Arts components).  We are part of a system that focuses on the subject and the project, but we can attempt to change things to make our lives less cluttered.  And “The System” isn’t into knowing our hearts, because it never was set up to do that, but humans can, and as a teacher and parent I will.

Calvin and Hobbes Cartoon – Please click here for link

8.  Welsh Mirror on the Wall

When I worked in Wales when I was 21 I heard a powerful sermon.  It was talking about ‘Loving Your Neighbour as Yourself’.  And how many of us look in the mirror and actually don’t love ourselves.  So how can we expect ourselves to love others?  Love ourselves for our passions and interests, and build those into your life and teaching.  It makes life much more enjoyable.  There is hope together.  Through focusing on the emotional and social development of a child and helping them see the true beauty of their giftings in themselves then there can be beautiful things like confidence, creativity, shame resilience and empathy.

We as adults should try to take time to open ourselves up to vulnerability and let our children feel safe to share too.  Can we create a future generation that looks into a mirror and appreciates themselves?

9.  Creating a Fun Home

As a Grade 4 teacher I have seen many kids walk into my class with busy schedules.  When we set a tone in our spaces as calm, peaceful and restful there is relaxation.  Institutions and schools can synonymous, but they don’t have to be.  Connections can be built with all of us – that are fun and playful.  Set a tone of play, laughter, care and people being seen.  Check out this awesome TED Talk about Tyler Dewitt, that I heard through the TED Radio Hour:


And if you are interested in hearing more about Rethinking School, watch these videos from the TED Radio Hour here:

Sawabona means “I see you” in South African.

Rules = Duty

Relationships = Desire

Can we please “allow” questioning and fun to happen?  Being open to all questions, allows for safe feelings for all parts involved.  Looking at an open relationship where shame does not rear its ugly head and we can talk about how we support our family that cares for one another.

10.  Find Your Voice and Use It

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. 

The important thing is not to stop questioning. 

– Albert Einstein

Adults we need you to find your voice and love it.  I felt the press of the cookie cutter mold too and its time to accept each other for who we are instead of wearing masks of perfectionism; traditions; system and expectations.

Vulnerability is a sign of courage and it is so hard to do it ourselves.  I am on a continued journey as a mom, wife, teacher and human being.  So somewhere in this continuous journey we need to find our voice and in turn evolve to a new language that celebrates all strengths and giftings.

I urge adults to connect with their passions and connect on Social Media with those we love; what you love and it’s never too late.  Find your tribe that loves what you love.  Be encouraged by those who love what you love.  By recognizing the voiceless, we might rise above the fog of expectations and traditions to find a glorious view of beauty.

Journeying through awareness that our current traditional system maybe the dense fog that hinder the growth of our unique and beautiful children.  Join me to dig deep into seeing the roots of our system by recognizing we have gone through this gauntlet and perhaps just encouraging creativity; a change in our language and seeing our children’s unique abilities in 2017 as the hope for freedom can be a step in the right direction out of the fog and onto a mountaintop.

Walk with me out of the fog because our kids aren’t broken, our system is.


*Thank you to Pixabay for your images!  Even though I don’t need to credit you, I think your website with images are wonderful!  Thank you for making my post better.


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Why Blog?

Hi! My name is Victoria Woelders from Vancouver, Canada. I blog about technology, teaching and life as a Mom. This blog is a journey of my passions, inspirations and moonshot thinking.


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