[In my attempt to push my own thinking, I’m continuing to unpack in writing some of the things that I say a lot. I always say that I want SLA kids to be “thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind” — and I do — so I thought it was a good idea to take those words apart a bit. This is part one.]

Once we accept the premise that the purpose of school is to help our students become fully realized citizens of a modern world, we have to ask ourselves what are the universal traits of the modern citizen?

We want people who are thoughtful.

Not “thoughtful” as a synonym for “nice.” Our world needs people who are truly “full of thought.”

There has long been an anti-intellectual thread to American society and sadly, school has probably done as much to perpetuate it as it has to eliminate it. By catering to the “right answer” and a reinforcing curricular decisions that taught kids in a top-down, “we know what is best to learn” fashion, we have long sent the message that thoughts that are outside the proscribed canon — and therefore kids who are outside the proscribed canon — are not o.k.

When we treat our classes as lenses on the world, not walled-off silos, we allow students to make connections to other ideas in such a way that will allow them to connect idea to idea, thought to thought, in ways that can be never-ending.

When we honor the ideas our students have and dare them to push those ideas further, we teach students that the world of ideas is a place they can live.

When we model thoughtfulness by deconstructing our own ideas in public, we teach our students that thoughts are not fixed, final and perfect, so that students can understand how reflective practice can lead us to deepen our ideas.

When we are open as teachers so that student ideas can influence and change our own — so that we are a learner in our own classrooms as well — we teach students that authority has no monopoly on ideas, on “right.” A teacher who is willing to say the words, “I never thought it that way,” to a student in a classroom opens a child up to the power of their own ideas to influence others, and that is an invaluable lesson to learn.

And when we create an inquiry-driven, project-based curriculum, where students can take the ideas of the classroom, make them their own, go deeper into the ideas that most speak to them, and then build artifacts that reflect their ideas and the path they travelled to develop them, we let students see the power of their ideas made manifest in the world.

In the end, the hallmark of a great school isn’t the number of ideas, facts and thoughts of ours that our students remember at the end of four years, it is the sheer number of ideas, facts and thoughts they discovered that built on the foundations we helped them to build.

It is the thing a test can never measure, and we have to do it anyway.

We must help our students be thoughtful.